Saturday, February 2, 2013

Candlemas and Groundhogs


Today, if I get this posted on time, is Candlemas.  It’s the fortieth day after Christmas, and, according to Luke, the day Jesus and Mary, after her “cleansing,” were presented at the temple.  I wonder how many of us have made the celebration of Candlemas a central part of our midwinter worship?  

I recall a parishioner in a former parish who was a true Candlemas aficionado.  Each year, shortly after Epiphany, she began organizing the upcoming Candlemas liturgy.  It was frustrating work.  Few came, mostly those coerced into it by her persistence.  After too many attempts, she resorted to organizing car pools to another parish in another city where Candlemas was celebrated the way she thought it should be.  That had mixed results as well; attendance depended on the day on which February 2 fell, and whether a good dinner with fine wine might be part of the outing.  She eventually left the parish to attend elsewhere, where Candlemas had a higher priority in the liturgical life of the church.  

I was among those who was not keen on Candlemas as a day to be celebrated with more than a sideways glance at the calendar, and mild curiosity about what groundhogs had to do with it.  However, there is something to be said about a day set aside for the faithful to symbolically act out what it means to be bearers of the light of Christ in a dark and dangerous world.  How should we recognize what it means to bear the light of Christ, if not Christ himself? 

Now and then I think about the Ark of God being borne into the newly completed temple as sign and symbol of God’s imminent presence among God’s people, and how, centuries after that Ark disappeared, God in Christ, was borne into the second temple, not as sign and symbol, but as real presence, heralded only by two (crazy?)old people.  No parade of musicians.  No king dancing.  No king offering an overly long self-laudatory prayer.  God, not symbolized by golden images of cherubim and seraphim, but God embodied in a forty day old baby cradled in his mother’s arms.  How utterly unlikely and unbelievable is that?  

I do not think that a high church liturgical celebration with all the vestments, smoke and bells is the right way to observe Candlemas, but my habit of ignoring it doesn’t seem right either.  Maybe the simple act of lighting a candle, remembering Simeon and Anna, and sharing a prayer with friends is the right way.

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