Sunday, February 02, 2014
It's dark and cold and wet outside. A good day for candles inside. And today is Candlemas, which, I've seen on calendars for some years but only recently learned refers to the day that Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple, and Anna and Simeon testified to this Light coming into the world. As early as the latter part of the fourth century the church in Jerusalem was celebrating this day, according to a pilgrim who traveled there from Bordeaux, a woman named Egeria who kept a journal of her experience (that you can read here, if interested.)
In churches that celebrate the day, candles are an important part of the service, with every person in the procession carrying one, representing the Light of Christ entering the Temple.
Of course since electricity came along (and I'm not complaining), we have largely lost the sense of dependency on fire as a source of both heat and light. Candles are largely a decorative item for us. But how beautiful it must have been in the middle of winter in 380-something A.D., to go to church and see lots and lots of candles, even to carry one yourself, in a procession for the very purpose of remembering that the Light of God had come into the world as a human, and was spreading from person to person, lighting up the darkness.
Especially in the years after the fall of Rome, when the darkness must have seemed even darker than before, I wonder what it was like for people on this day and other special days--and of course every Sunday was a special day--as they tenaciously held onto their candles, whether literal or figurative, holding onto what they had been told, that Light had come into the darkness, that the darkness was not the final reality.
Most musical settings of Simeon's song use the older language, which I happen to believe is beautiful, having sung it many times.
Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant
depart in peace
according to Thy Word,
for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation
which Thou hast prepared
before the face of all people.
To be a Light to light on the Gentiles
And to be the glory of Thy people Israel.
Glory be to the Father
And to the Son
And to the Holy Ghost,
As it was the beginning,
Is now and ever shall be,
World without end. Amen.
by John Shephard (1515-1559)
(The photo is of candles in the cathedral of Milan, from my trip in 2008.)