Sunday, 30 January 2011

Candlemas - from darkness into light

I might be a born-again liturgist these days, but I've only ever been to two Candlemas services. I attended my first last year and my second this very evening, both of them at St Mary's Astbury, that wonderful 14th century church just this side of Congleton.

My wife practices with the choir there in exchange for singing with them at a few weddings and services a year, mostly on high days and holidays. Tonight it was Candlemas, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

I might be missing something, but very few churches seem to celebrate it these days, certainly not at the 'low' or evangelical end of things where I've spent most of my time. It's a pity, because it's a service rich with meaning, an ancient turning point in the Christian year. As it was, we had to put up with karoake-style DVDs in our own parish this morning, so it was great to get to a service pregnant with symbolism - light and darkness, sin, suffering, sacrifice and the glories to follow. In fairness though, it was a good sermon, but the karoake ... !

Tonight's service gave the antidote to all that. As the service notes said, it has a certain 'bitter-sweet' flavour. Simeon's words from Luke's Gospel, enshrined in the familiar canticle, Nunc dimittis, speak of the 'falling and rising of many' and warn Mary that 'a sword will pierce through your own heart also.' As we move from Christmas towards Lent, there's the reminder that ahead lies sacrifice and blood before we reach the glories of the Resurrection.

The words of the ancient hymn based on the Liturgy of St James had particular resonance. 'Let all mortal flesh  keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand ...'

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