February 2

Two Turtledoves

By Marsh Chapel

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Malachi 3:1-4

Hebrews 2:14-18

Luke 2:22-40

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Prelude:  Pauline 13

February 2, 2020.  Candlemas.  Ground Hog Day.  A religious feast.  A secular holiday.  The consolation of Israel.  The redemption of Jerusalem.  For once, we turn our meditation, at communion, both outward and inward, both toward the shadow’s length on to spring, and to the liturgy’s turn from Christmas, and the blessing of the candles of 2020. Sometimes it is not the great mysteries, but the small ones—a candle, a shadow—that touch us and heal us.  The little things.  Like two turtle doves, a candle on Candlemas, a shadow on Ground Hog Day.  Light a candle.  Watch the shadow.

One: Candlemas

‘525,600 minutes’…Midway into the old musical, RENT, the story a young woman appears at the door of her neighbor.  Both are poor, lost, penniless and lonely.  Like all of us, we long to connect with others, with our own truest selves, and with God.  She knocks on the door, looking for a match with which to light her candle, for just a little warmth, just a little light. Unamuno on warmth: not the night that kills but the frost.   And she sings, “Will somebody light my candle?” “Will somebody light my candle?” There is struggle in the air, and romance too.  And what is wrong with that?  Here is a young man wondering about profession, marriage, meaning.  “Will somebody light my candle?”  Here is young mother, raising children alone.  “Will somebody light my candle?”  Here is a man, or woman, alone now for the first time, this winter.  “Will somebody light my candle?”  Here is a grandfather listening for news of his grandson in military service, far away.  “Will somebody light my candle?”  Here is a preacher wondering how on earth to preach the gospel with Australia burning, China coughing, Washington exploding, Methodism imploding, “Will somebody light my candle?”  Here you are, on the brink of faith, just about ready to accept your own acceptance, to connect with your own connectedness, to survive your own survival, to live in the peace of God.  “Will Somebody light your candle?”  Our friend Dr. Reid Cooper of Brown said last Sunday, ‘faith is the positive response to the question, ‘does life have meaning?’’  True enough, at least to start.

Watch our Sacristan, Come Sunday, just before the service, while some have gathered for quiet intercessory prayer, quietly lighting our candles, here on the altar.

The Scripture for Candlemas illumines us:

*The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple

*Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested

*Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors! That the King of Glory may come in

*Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him; to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Jesus is our childhood’s pattern.  Day by day like us he grew.

Simeon and Anna are older people, who have some insight, even prophetic insight, into what is to come.  Luke has apparently confused the rites of presentation and purification.   Consolation; the fulfillment of Jewish messianic hopes.  The consolation is the redemption of Israel, different phrases meaning the same thing. A light for revelation to the unreligious, and for glory to the religious.  The old prophet sees, as promised, and Messiah has come “for all peoples”.

The feast of the Presentation, or Candlemas, is the conclusion of Christmas, and affords the blessing of candles, and the blessing of throats. One of the oldest feasts of the church, dating to the early fourth century, it conjured sermons by Methodius of Patara (died 312), Cyril of Jerusalem (died 360), Gregory the Theologian (died 389), Amphilochius of Iconium (died 394), Gregory of Nyssa (died 400), and John Chrysostom (died 407).  So the church’s liturgy joins with Scripture in teaching and testimony:

*Dear people of God, forty days ago we celebrated the joyful feast of the incarnation of Jesus. Today we recall the day on which he was presented in the temple, fulfilling the law of Moses. Led by the Spirit, Simeon and Anna came to the temple, recognized the child as the Christ, and proclaimed him with joy. United by the same Spirit, we now enter the house of God, where we shall recognize Christ in the breaking of bread.

*O eternal God, who have created all things; on this day you fulfilled the petitions of the just Simeon: we humbly ask you to bless and sanctify these candles for our use. Graciously hear our prayers and be merciful to us, whom you have redeemed by your Son, who is the light of the world, and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

*O God most powerful and most kind…for Whose sake the glorious Martyr and Bishop, St. Blaise, joyfully gained the palm of martyrdom…Thou Who didst give to him, amongst other gifts, the prerogative of curing by Thy power every ailment of men’s throats…

At our prayer station following communion, we can at least recognize the need for health particularly at this time around the globe.

Come Candlemas, light a candle.  It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.  This is not Confucius, Shakespeare, Proverbs or Ben Franklin.  It is a line from a sermon, 1907.

“The earliest appearance located by QI occurred in a 1907 collection titled “The Supreme Conquest and Other Sermons Preached in America” by William L. Watkinson. A sermon titled “The Invincible Strategy” downplayed the value of verbal attacks on undesirable behaviors and championed the importance of performing good works. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:  ‘But denunciatory rhetoric is so much easier and cheaper than good works, and proves a popular temptation. Yet is it far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.’” (Internet: QI)

Light a candle.

Aeschylus:  In our sleep pain, which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our despair and against our will, comes wisdom, through the awful grace of God.

Two: Ground Hog Day

I have this response to those of you who will not abate the ongoing contention related to my claim that Ground Hog Day is the best of all holidays:

In the ministry you offer to God and neighbor all weekends, most evenings and most holidays, and then work 9-5, Monday to Friday.  All this takes a chunk out of the year.  Holidays, in particular, carry, shall we say, some stress.  Christmas, for an example.  There are expectations.  Special services.  People.  Doings.

Behold the blessing of February 2!  An utterly ordinary day, and a holiday to boot!  No expectations.  No special services.  No people.  No Doings.  Just the blessing of a single, average, wintry, bereft of expectation day.  Ground Hog Day.  It doesn’t get better than Ground Hog Day.  A quiet, ordinary, no frills day.

But…What is ordinary about any day, anyway?

Every one of them is a gem.

Monday’s child is fair of face

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Wednesday’s child is full of woe

Thursday’s child has far to go

Friday’s child is loving and giving

Saturday’s child works hard for a living

But the child that is born on the Sabbath Day

Is happy, witty, bright and gay!

Every day is a chance to do a good turn.  Do one daily.  BE: Trustworthy Loyal Helpful Friendly Courteous Kind Obedient Cheerful Thrifty Brave Clean Reverent.

We have reminders, don’t we, of ordinary daily wisdom, quotidian quips

Some are cultural:

A stitch in time saves nine…An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure…Look before you leap…eternity in a grain of sand, heaven in a wild flower

Some are familial:

(To complaining): You would complain if you were to be hung with a new rope…(To time waste): Never try to teach a pig to sing.  It wastes your time.  And it annoys the pig…(Too constant questions):Are you a journalist or are you writing a book?…(To inquisitive children): Where were you before you were born?  Down in Canada boiling soap.

Some are national:

Give me your tired, your poor  Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free  The wretched refuse of your teeming shore  Send these, the tempest tossed, to me  I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

In truth, there are no ordinary days, no insignificant holidays.

Emily Webb stands as our fiercest sentinel to the landscape of this, truth, the Gospel on Ground Hog Day, out of the imagination of Thornton Wilder, brother to the great New Testament scholar, Amos Wilder, both New Englanders.

You will remember that she and George were graduated from High School in Grover’s Corners.  On the basis of a frank talking to over a soda, in which Emily criticizes George for being less than fully humble, George decides not to leave home, not to go to college, but to start working an uncle’s farm right away, and to marry Emily, the girl next door.  You remember their wedding. “A man looks pretty small at a wedding, all those good women standing shoulder to shoulder, making sure the knot is tied in a mighty public way.”   You remember that Emily, after just a few years of profoundly happy marriage and life, tragically dies in childbirth.  You remember that George finds no way to manage the extreme grief of his loss.  Simple Yankee English.  Simple reckoning about love, life, death and meaning.

Maybe you also remember, in the playwright’s imagination, Emily from the communion of saints looking out on her young husband and wanting to go back. Others warn her away from the plan: “All I can say Emily, is, don’t…it isn’t wise…(If you must do it) Choose an unimportant day.  Choose the least important day of your life.  It will be important enough.”

She chooses February 11, 1899, her 12th birthday.  She arrives at dawn.  She sees Main Street, the drugstore, the livery stable, and breathes the brightness of a crisp winter morning.  Simple.  She looks into her own house.  Her mother is making breakfast, her father returning from a speech given at Hamilton College.  Neighbors pass in the snow.  Simple.  She sees how young and pretty her mother looks—can’t quite believe it.  It is 10 below zero.  There is fussing to find a blue hair ribbon: “it’s on the dresser—if it were a snake it would bite you”.  Simple.  Papa enters to give a hug and a kiss and a birthday gift.  And others from mother and the boy next door. Simple.  “Just for a moment now we’re all together.  Mama, just for a moment now we’re all together.  Just for a moment we’re happy.  Let’s look at one another.”

Simple.  This is the gospel of Ground Hog Day, the best holiday of the year, the holiday of the extraordinary ordinary, of the uncommonly common, of the sunlit winter, of the eternal now.  Simple.  Grover’s Corners.  “Papa. Mama.  Clocks ticking.  Sunflowers.  Food. Coffee.  New ironed dresses.  Hot baths.  Sleeping.  Waking up. Earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”

Watch the shadow.

In truth, there are no ordinary days, no insignificant holidays.

Said BU Philosopher Erazim Kohak:  “A life wholly absorbed in need and its satisfaction, be it on the level of conspicuous consumption or of marginal survival, falls short of realizing the innermost human possibility of cherishing beauty, knowing truth, doing the good, worshiping the holy”.

Postlude:  Beatitudes

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel

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