Yesterday was the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus, which recalls the day when Our Redeemer was himself redeemed. You see, it was the custom, back in the days when the Temple still stood in Jerusalem, that every firstborn male, whether of humankind or of beast, had to be either sacrificed or redeemed from sacrifice by the offer of a lesser creature. The practice went back to the time of the escape from Egypt, when God struck down the firstborn of Egypt but the Hebrews were able to save their own by sacrificing a lamb and painting its blood onto the doors of their homes. And from that day onward, God was considered to own every firstborn.
And so Joseph and Mary appear at the Temple with their offering of a pair of turtledoves, which was the offering of the poorest of the poor. But when they came to the Temple, an aged man named Simeon, who had been promised that he would not die before he saw the Messiah, caught the infant Christ up in his arms and began to cry out that this was the chosen one of God. And an ancient woman named Anna joined him in his joy, and Simeon prayed, “Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised.”
Those words resonate for me, because for me the Presentation is not only a reminder of a key day in the life of Christ; it is also the day on which my mentor died. I remember rushing to the hospital, arriving a few minutes too late, the stunned and grieving faces, and only later — the next day, even — realizing that it had been a holy day in more ways than one.
Because the Presentation is not only an archaic custom: each of us will, in time, be presented to the Lord. We will make our long last journey. At the church where I serve, we come out to greet the body as it arrives. We gather around it; we drape it with a beautiful cloth, and then we pray for this child of God who has been set free to go in peace.
We who follow Christ live in expectation of that day — not in fear, but in hope. We know that we have been redeemed, that whatever our sins, they are covered by the blood of one more precious than two turtledoves, more precious even than a lamb.
We know more: we know that death is not the end, but is only the start of a great adventure, in which we will move from grace to grace, growing toward the heart of God for all eternity.
Before my mentor died, his grandchild asked him, “Grandpa, are you afraid to die?” And he replied, “I look forward to with great anticipation.” But we can anticipate it only when we live in the light of eternity; when our words and our deeds are such that we would wish them to endure.
What in your life enables you to look forward in hope? What in your life causes you fear or heaviness of heart? Turn them both over to God, now, while we walk in the light of day. For we have been redeemed, my friends; we have been redeemed.