I have enough, it is enough, I have taken the Saviour, the hope of the righteous, into my eager arms; it is enough! I have beheld Him, my faith has pressed Jesus to my heart; now I wish even today with joy to depart from here. Cantata 82, J.S. Bach
“Looking forward to the consolation of Israel.”
I spent a few days last week in Pennsylvania visiting with my 90 year old mother. I felt blessed just sitting there quietly with her in the home where I grew up and where she has lived for the past 60 years. Much of what Luke writes of Simeon here could be echoed about my Mom, I thought – the presence of the Holy Spirit evident in what can honestly be described as a righteous and devout life, a life not without struggle and disappointment mind you, but also with joy and a certain sense of gracious longing that has carried her all those years to these culminating chapters of her story.
While there, my Mom and I visited with the newest member of our Stoudt clan, a two week old little girl with a button nose and a shock of black hair. I sat contentedly with four generations of women in my immediate family – my mother Ruth, her daughter Ruth Ann, and granddaughter Lacy, and great-granddaughter Avery Joy. There was a great deal of cuddling and nuzzling and cooing going on, as you might very well imagine; but when Lacy laid little Avery in her great-grandmother’s arms, I witnessed first-hand what I had been pondering for over a week – I honestly think for those few lingering moments I was in the presence of “the consolation of Israel.” What more could a 90 year old woman hope for than this? And as she took Avery in her ancient embrace and whisper-sang a lullaby to the child, I saw tearful smiles of holy consolation and heard echoes of Luke’s gospel and of Bach’s cantata – “sleep, you weary eyes, close softly and pleasantly in sweet peace and quiet rest …” “… for my eyes have seen salvation, light for revelation to all, and glory to your people.”
Of course, Luke relates this story prophetically, wanting to clearly establish from the very beginning of Jesus’ life, the divine destiny of this One who now lives for us as Christ. But the poignancy of this encounter – how average, everyday people like Simeon, like my mother, like you, like me – can and will experience God’s comfort and gracious support for the long haul. It’s this heartfelt yearning of this story that captures my imagination. And if I have misgivings about this biblical episode in any way, it’s mostly to do with the individualized way it is often read and interpreted. Too often it’s about Simeon’s personal experience, his personal promise from the Spirit, his personal call to the temple, him personally holding Jesus, him praising God, him blessing Mary. Too often, the focus is on one person’s reality … just look at Bach’s interpretation in his cantata … ich habe genug … I have enough … I … me … my …
Now I’m not suggesting that you should downplay your personal relationship with Christ in any way, in fact far from it. How each one of you opens your heart and mind to God’s grace and goodness in Jesus is a vital link toward your personal fulfillment as a Christian, and I prayerfully encourage you. But if it’s only about your spiritual journey, your faith, your salvation, then it’s a mixed blessing indeed.
So while I was in Pennsylvania, the news media there was flooded by the story of Joe Paterno’s death. You likely saw it here in the news too, so far did that ripple travel. If you missed it somehow, Joe Paterno (Joe Pa as we Pennsylvanians call him) was the venerated and beloved head coach of Penn State’s football team for about as long as my mother has lived in her present home – more than a half century. He was the “winningest” coach in college football, only to be fired in disgrace last autumn because a scandal involving one of his assistants.
There are a lot of ways to read this story, including how Paterno lived with the mixed blessing present in the tension between personal success and dedication to team. His memorial service last Thursday was over 2½ hours long, and my brother-in-law was showing us a few of the highlights before supper. In his son’s eulogy, Paterno was remembered as a leader with strong faith and solid convictions. From the very beginning of his career, at the end of every game, win or lose, he would gather the players around him in the locker room and have them take a knee. Then he would say the Lord’s Prayer. In later years especially he was criticized occasionally for saying that prayer, but he continued the practice to the end of his career. His son asked him once, why he kept on with it? Why not just a moment of silence out of respect for other faiths? To which Paterno replied, “because there’s no I or me or my in it. It’s all about Our Father, give us this day our daily bread, forgive us as we forgive, lead us, deliver us. It’s all about us … it’s about team.
I had never thought about the Lord’s Prayer quite that way before. And as I paused to consider it anew, I remembered Simeon’s longing. As personal as it may have felt to him, it was not really about him, it never was; and sometimes that can feel like a mixed blessing, when we realize that the gift is not just for me and mine, but for all. Simeon would rest in peace, not because God saved him in particular, but because of his loving connection to the temple, to his faith community, even to strangers who simply came to dedicate a child. Through these connections God was offering peace and wholeness – what some may call salvation – to all. “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all people.” Simeon was blessed to recognize it in the child named Jesus. And so are we, when we recognize Christ’s presence here. It’s not about you or me in particular. It’s all about us together … it’s about team.
Orleans United Church
January 29, 2012