Ash Wednesday

The liturgy had me at hello this year…The service for Ash Wednesday is certainly a beautiful one, but as I was skimming through the bulletin preparing for today, I didn’t expect I would just get caught by the first sentence of the first collect: “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing that you have made”

You hate nothing that you have made. That’s the opening line for us to enter this time of Lent. And you know, I thought it was in the same time a little bit disturbing and yet so touching and profound. It moved me in a very different way that when I hear that “God loves us”.

God loves us. Isn’t that the truth, and we know that, right? We hear that often enough. Not only at church. On TV, on the radio, we read it on bumper stickers. Maybe we’ve gotten used to it. We don’t really think about what it means anymore.

But God does not hate us. Isn’t that something? It gave me a chill trough my spine.

This line moved me first of all, because it reminds us that although we may keep on rejecting and hating one another, and find good reasons for that, there is nothing like that in God. In a world where we are so often hated for what we look like, how we sound or who we are, God does not discriminate. There is nothing wrong with us in God’s sight. As God created us, so we are, and God upholds us in our being.

And that’s already something.

But there is something that is even more worthy to be noticed: It is that as God does that, as God accepts us as we are, God also accepts who we’ve become and who we’ve let ourselves become. God accepts not only who we are, but also what we did. God does not reject us based on our appearance and God does not reject us based on our deeds. And we mean both when we say that God does not hate us.

God does not hate us. Reading this line reminded me of something I haven’t thought about for a long time. It took me back when I was studying literature in college. There is a very famous classical French play – called “Le Cid” – and it tells the story of a young woman whose lover, to avenge the honor of his father, kills her own father in a duel. And so it’s pretty dramatic, right? But after he kills her father, the young woman has these famous words for her lover:

“See, I hate you not”

I hate you not. It became a famous quotation. I hate you not, meaning I still love you, but even a little more than that. A little stronger than that. It means, even if you do the worst thing to me, it’s not only that I will still love you – that there will be some lingering feelings inside of me – but even if you do the worst thing to me, there is no way I can bring myself to have something against you, there is no room for resentment, no desire for destruction inside my heart.

And I think it’s a little bit of the same idea in our Collect today, when we say that God hates nothing God has made. It does not acknowledge mainly that God has some warm, fuzzy feelings for us we should rejoice about. It acknowledges that although we may have done the worst to God, or although we may have done the worst in God’s sight – and we can think about it as killing God’s Son when Jesus died on the cross, but we can also think about it in terms of wars, genocides, and destruction of the ecosystems – in spite of all this evil, there is no room for resentment in God’s heart, no desire for destruction.

God cannot bring God to have something against us.

God does not hate us: It takes into account the reality of sin, evil and pain and yet, almighty and everlasting is God, and so is God’s love: Almighty and everlasting. It cannot be destroyed.

And so this Collect gave me a chill in the spine because I am afraid that often when people tell us they love us, or maybe appreciate us, or give us a compliment, we wonder if they really know us. We wonder if their love or affection, although genuine, is something that has really taken into account all the aspects of who we are or what we have done or what we could do. We wonder if it isn’t a love that is – without a fault of their own – a little bit superficial.

Maybe they like only what they see, the image they have of us, not our depths.

And people at Jesus’s time were already worried about that, weren’t they? Like most of us, they were trying to look good so they could be, if not loved, be admired or respected, or at least be accepted. They put on all those religious acts maybe because they were worried that there was something so ugly or just so plain ordinary inside of them, that they would be mocked, criticized or rejected if people were to find out. And maybe so.

But God, God does not hate us.

God does not hate us so maybe it’s okay to put down the mask. At any rate, no matter how much we may want to hide, God sees us in secret. God sees us in secret. God sees us in secret. Jesus repeats that six times. And it’s not so much that God observes and keeps tabs on what we do in secret, rather it is that God knows the secrets of our hearts: hurts, anxieties, troubles, shame, regrets and longings– all these things that would make us unlovable, if they knew.

But if God does not hate us – and that’s we are reminded of during Lent – God invites us in a relationship with God. Jesus reminds us in the Gospel today that God asks us to use our religion, our spiritual practices not as a make over, a polish to make us look a little nicer, a little more attractive, a little more acceptable, God asks us to use our spiritual practices, prayer, fasting (the things we “give up”), alms giving (the things we “give away”), as a way to crack open before God and to give our hearts to God – to give not only the bright and shiny, but all the things we work hard on hiding because we feel bad, guilty and ashamed.

Because we should not feel first bad, guilty and ashamed. We should first feel loved, accepted and upheld in our being. Because if God does not hate us, how could we despise ourselves?

If God does not hate us, if God accepts us anyway, then it means that we cannot, that we aren’t authorized to sit around hiding, hating ourselves or the rest of humankind, and we need to move forward and become more loving.

I think that what the Gospel teaches us today is this ridiculously simple thing that to love and be loved, we don’t need to look good, to be good or to do good, the only thing we need to do is to open our hearts. And it is true with God, and it is true in any relationships, if we want to love for real.

You know, our best friends aren’t those who honor us with their friendship because they have it all together, because they stay young and healthy and have those wonderful kids or grand kids and great jobs or retirement places. Our best friends are those we can call at the end of the week and tell them about all the ways we messed up and embarrassed ourselves, and still have a good laugh about it, and feel loved the same and even a little more because we told them.

And we can all be this kind of friends and make others feel loved too.

I think God is this kind of friend.

In God, we discover that we can be loved not because we’re messed up or damaged, but because as we acknowledge the depths of our hearts, we allow ourselves to be known and to be seen. As we do so, we free ourselves to be loved and we will free others to let themselves be known and seen too.

This is the key to give and to receive love and this is called vulnerability. This was called humility in the ancient times. And this is the sign we are going to receive today, the sign of the ashes (humility means humus, dirt). Humility, it does not mean to humiliate oneself, it just means to be simple, to be real, to not take ourselves too seriously, and to be sincere about our shortcomings without being a drama queen, and doing so allowing ourselves to be known and to be seen because if God hates us not, neither should we.

And so this is the opening line, and this is our invitation for Lent. If God hates us not, then we cannot sit around hating ourselves or hating humankind, we have to move forward, and as we open our hearts, do the hard work of acceptance, reconciliation and reparation.

Today is Ash Wednesday and we’re just getting started, but let’s start with the beginning. Let’s move forward and receive the ashes.

Last Sunday of Epiphany – The Transfiguration

Your bulletin mentions today that you will hear a “homily”. In case you don’t know, a homily is a short sermon. I have a friend priest who adds jokingly that if a homily is a short sermon, then a short homily is an omelet. When she’s very busy with church business during during the week, she says: “That’s fine, on Sunday morning, we’ll just have an omelette”.

This week the sermon is shorter than usual because we want to leave time for Lucille who offered to deliver a message for Black History Month. When we had our vestry retreat, I encouraged all vestry members to preach once during their term. It’s important to think of the vestry (and all those involved in church work) as spiritual leaders. They are not only those handling finances, dealing with building issues, but we need to remember that they also decide where the church is heading….

– So first a message about today’s Gospel:

Today is the last Sunday of Epiphany (before we enter Lent on Wed), and it is also the feast of the Transfiguration, we have just heard the story. When I have to preach on a “famous” passage of the Scriptures, I often have a look at what I preached the years before. As I did so this time, I was surprised to realize that I had preached on Mark’s and Luke’s version of the Transfiguration but not Matthew’s.

When there is the same story in different Gospels (which happens quite often), it’s interesting to notice the small details that differ. Those details often give us a quite unique perspective on the author of the Gospel’s theology – his way of understanding God at work in Jesus’s life.

And so what stands out for me when I hear this version of the Transfiguration (compared to the two other ones) is this first sentence: “Six days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up on a high mountain, by themselves and he was transfigured before them.”

– “Six days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ”.Very interesting to me b/c it acknowledges that Peter first confessed his faith (If you remember, it is this also famous passage when Jesus asks: Who do you say that I am?” Ch 16, we’re in 17) and THEN Peter sees Jesus’s glory. FIRST he confesses, first he believes and THEN he can see it, and then it is revealed to his eyes.

Quite extraordinary right? We expect the other way around: You see (something) and then you believe (it’s real). I never believed there were something like white squirrels until I saw one!

– And yet, it seems that it makes sense though, if you start to think about it that sometimes we need first to believe to be able to see. You know, we all live in the same world and our eyes work the same, yet we see things in very different ways: We tend to ignore what’s not relevant to us but we notice the things that are useful or important to us. Have you ever noticed for example when people give you directions the landmarks they have? Some people notice churches, or restaurants, or they tell you the number of the highway, or that’s it’s right after the liquor store!

For me, we often have those funny dialogues with Xavier who is always surprised that I haven’t noticed the wireless terminal in the room, the camera at the door or the radar on the road! Yet, I am the one who spots first what’s left in the fridge.

We see the world differently, we notice what is important to us, what is familiar, what we enjoy but also we notice what expect to see, what we are looking for. And I think it is important to remember this is the way our mind works because it works the same when it comes to noticing God.

Like Peter, we will start seeing God’s glory / discerning God’s presence in Jesus if we start believing that God is present and acting in Jesus. True also in our lives: We will see God’s actions and God’s glory in our lives, if we believe it’s real.

– If you expect to find God, you will find God. Peter had opened his heart, mind, soul to see God’s glory in Jesus and THEN he was able to see it in his flesh. Of course, it’s not about auto persuasion either. Like if you believe in martians and you will start seeing them everywhere! But it’s a pattern, a sort of virtuous circle:

You start to be open to something and then you start noticing it and as you see it, then you’re even more open to it etc. You start being familiar with God by readings the Scriptures, serving people, praying and then you notice God. We used to call that a “spiritual practice”. But we need to pause to do that, to start noticing, and that is exactly what the disciples are doing today. They go on Mont Tabor to take a break from their busy lives (They’ve just fed the 5000) and, main, they also take a break from their anxiety and restlessness (Jesus’s just announced his passion) and then they are able to see.

– We’re going to do that in Lent. Take time to be with God, reading the Scriptures, praying…b/c we also are invited to see. We need to learn how to see. March 28th: Artist Peggy Parker is offering a Quiet Day for us. She is an artist but also a teacher, and one of the things she says that I love is that: Seeing is a holy act (Last week, we talked about the sinful act of staring!). We have to learn to see in a holy way – learn to see God’s presence, to see God at work – even and maybe especially when, like the disciples, we feel exhausted or discouraged. When I feel like that, I often do a simple prayer to open the day, to see things in a different way “Let me see your love, your comfort, give me an opportunity to laugh / to feel appreciated” and it happens. Maybe it happens every day but b/c I do the prayer, I notice God’s presence.

We think so much that our job as Christians is to do many things for God…Sometimes it is just to contemplate. It transforms us. When we see beauty, we feel better and we act kinder. Seeing beauty in others, not only people but also in nature, work of Art, and also in us make us more respectful and attentive. We want to take care of what’s beautiful. To honor it. So often, we see the world as tool / we are always on the look what we need (the liquor store) / How we can use the world. But if we pause we are given a chance to see the world for what it is – freely given and filled with God’s glory. Even in difficult times, we can see God at work. I hope you will accept this invitation during Lent towards learning holy seeing.

Epiphany 6

I – We’re in this portion of Matthew’s Gospel called “The sermon on the Mont” Ch 5 to 7. Big chunk of the Gospel where Jesus teaches the crowd. Before we start having a look at the teachings themselves, there are two observations I would like to do:

1 – Matthew always insists on Jesus’s role as a teacher. There are long passages in Matthew’s dedicated to Jesus’s teachings: His sermons, his parables, his dialogues with the people he met. Yet, the sermon on the Mont stands out among Jesus’s teachings b/c Jesus explicitly comments the Law (and the Prophets) = The Scriptures. It was not that extraordinary at the time – that’s what rabbis did: commenting the Scriptures, interpreting the Law, trying to understand how it applied to specific circumstances. It is still true in modern Judaism, but it is also what lawyers do in our court rooms! We agree on the Law (US Constitution, for example), but then we have to analyze how it is relevant to what happens with individuals, or in our society.

It is important for us to remember that, when some of us Christians are accused by others to “pick and choose”, to not behave “by the book”. Once I was told by a leader of another denomination: “It’s fine that you are an Episcopalian, but you have to know that in our Church, we believe what the Bible teaches”. To which I replied: “Okay, then, what does the Bible teach?” Meaning: It’s not that obvious. Let’s talk about it.

Do you know that, for example, there are three slightly different versions of the ten commandments inside the Bible? (Ex 20, 34 and Deut 5). Jesus, right before the passage we have today, reminds us that there is an Eternal Law. Yet, in the Scriptures themselves there are commentaries on the Scriptures, on the Law. It is our job to understand what the Law means for us, how it is at play in our lives, in our cultures, in our societies. Jesus commented the Law, but rabbis before him and after him did just that as well.

2 – And so commenting the Law was an important aspect of Jesus’s teaching – but, as it is with Jesus, he did things in his own way. To me, Jesus’s teaching is unique in the way that he taught surrounded by the crowd. He went to meet the crowd. At the time, rabbis were sought after, you had to “apply” to become their students, there was probably some sort of “tuition”! Not everybody was seen as worthy to study the Law. On the other way around, Jesus was the rabbi who opened the Scriptures for everybody who wanted to learn (Like theologians did during the Reformation!). We still symbolize this unique way Jesus had to teach when we process with the Gospel during the service: Jesus’s words come to us.

And so Jesus came to help us figure things out. Jesus taught with a special kind of authority: Standing on a Mont, surrounded by the crowd, he appeared as a new Moses: “You have heard that it was said” / “But I say to you”. Jesus invited people to examine what they have been taught about the Law, to understand what God called them to do in their humble and daily lives. Jesus didn’t invite people to “make things up”, to “pick and choose”, to try to find “loopholes” (as did some many lawyers!), but he invited people to look deeper, to think deeper, to live according to the Law.

II – And so now we come to the teaching itself. Well, this is really exciting today! Murder, judgments, anger, insult, hell, fire, adultery, lust, auto mutilation, divorce…It could be a new TV show, but it’s the Gospel. B/c the Gospel is about life, real life. Jesus came to the crowd, not only by being physically present with them, but also by talking to them about something real! This is what TV shows do right? They don’t talk about general principles. They capture our attention by dealing with what is on our minds. No doubt that Anger and Sex are two big issues!

So what’s the teaching of this passage? Well, as Jesus asks us to look deeper, he asks us to look not only at the (righteous) actions, but also at the (pure) intentions. Murder (or violence) and adultery can take many forms, and none of these forms are okay for Jesus. Not only your actions have to be righteous, but it is barely a minimum. Your heart has to be pure, your thoughts clean. Jesus does not look only at the letter of the Law, but as the Spirit of the Law. The trick is, as he does so, he seems to make the Law more demanding:

It’s not good enough not to murder, you should never get angry.
It’s not good enough not to commit adultery, you should not even think about sex.

And so, this is what I was thinking when I was preparing the sermon: I am not sure this is very helpful. And I started wondering: Did Jesus really made God’s commandments easier / accessible to everybody or did he make them impossible? Anger and sexual attraction are the emotions that are the most deeply rooted in our two natural instincts: Auto-conservation and reproduction. Survival. How could we just toss them out of our minds?

As I was struggling with these questions, I remembered that the Scriptures themselves are a commentary on the Scriptures. So I decided to wander a bit further in the Gospels, and I found a few things really interesting that shed light on what Jesus is actually doing.

– First about anger. Today Jesus says in v. 22: “If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire.” Now if you flip to Matthew 23, you find Jesus getting really mad at the Pharisees, and this is what you read in v16-17, this is what he tells them:“Woe to you, blind guides (…) You blind fools!”.

Wow. Jesus got mad at the Pharisees and he actually called them “fools”. In plain contradiction with his former sermon. So didn’t Jesus practice what he preached?

I think this is something else. Actually, Jesus often got mad at the religious leaders, and he got mad because they used their power and their influence to control and diminish people. To abuse them. When Jesus got angry, it was not on a whim but he used in anger for the sake of justice / to defend the powerless but also to stir some kind of change in those who misbehaved.

So we see that anger is an emotion you can decide what to do with: it can be oriented towards destruction / self destruction, or it can be an energy focused towards building up a true religion and a better society. There is an anger that is without hate – an anger that is righteous indignation. Often our anger comes from a sense of unfairness, in our personal relationships or as we witness what’s going on in our society – now the question is for us: How are we going to use it?

– Then a few things about lust. If you turn to John 8, we have this famous passage of the adulterous woman who “has just been caught in the act”, and you know there are all those religious men who bring the woman to Jesus to ask him if it is right to stone her, as it was required by the Law. And John mentions that, all the while they’re discussing that, Jesus is writing in the sand. There is no explanation for why he did that. But I think Jesus wrote in the sand whereas not to look directly at the woman (probably still half dressed), and he did that out of respect, when all the men were surrounding her, humiliating her with their stares, very likely thinking about all those “sinful things”.

So today, when Jesus asks men not to look at women to “commit adultery with them in their hearts”, I think this is what he means: Don’t look at women to objectify them / to humiliate them. To reduce them to their sexuality. It’s a kind of stare that has nothing to do with genuine affection and authentic physical attraction. It’s actually the perversion of this very desire that God deemed as good from the beginning. (I remind you that actually God’s first commandment in the Bible is asking Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and to multiply”).

– And so, Jesus points to the Eternal Law, the Spirit of the Law, that we have heard about in our first reading, in Deuteronomy. God is the God of life and God’s commandments are meant to be life giving. And so this how we have to interpret the Law: Not using it to scare people, to condemn them, to objectify them, but to lift them up, to affirm their identity and God’s image in them (and in ourselves as we do so).

People are the end and the very reason for the commandments.

Last observation – back to Jesus as a teacher: Like all good teachers, Jesus is an educator. Jesus wants his listeners to understand what the law is really about, being able to make wise choices and be responsible for what they do. Being a disciple is to be called to grow. Paul uses this image (2nd reading) about going from “milk” to “solid food”. There is a time when children need to be given what they need to eat, to be told what to eat, and then comes a times when they can make decisions based on what they know is good and life giving for their bodies. This is also what happens spiritually. We have to keep on studying “God’s Law” (= the Scriptures) to become spiritual adults. We are all an embodiment of God’s word in this world. Our lives, an interpretation of the Law. The Eternal Law is not something behind us, it’s something we’re aiming towards as individuals and communities when we grow in wisdom and strive to live with integrity (Our yes is a yes, a no is a no / the body may be torn apart but the soul remains whole). We won’t need to feel threatened by the judge or the fear of hell to do the right thing, but, as compelling, we’ll do the right thing b/c this what we need to do, for the love of God and the love of neighbor.

The Presentation of Our Lord

I talked several times recently about the Sunday readings shifting to Matthew’s Gospel – we’re now in year A – but today Luke pops up again in our readings. There is a good reason for that. Today, we are 40 days after Christmas, and we celebrate a double event: The Presentation of the Lord and the Purification of the Virgin Mary, and of this double event, we only have an account recorded in Luke’s – who is the author who dwells the longest on Jesus’s childhood.

I am just going to make a few quick remarks since this feast and the Jewish rites they acknowledge aren’t typically well known to Christians, or well understood. The Presentation of the Lord is not to be confounded with the circumcision – that always took place 8 days after the birth of the child. The Presentation is this rite when the first born had to be brought, “presented”, to the Temple as a reminder that every first born (not only human, but cattle and crops) were considered by the Hebrews to belong more specifically to the Lord. A sacrifice had to be offered to “redeem” them, to give something for them in exchange, “a sacrifice”, so you have the right, if you will, to “keep them”. It may seems odd, but not that much if you think about it as an act of Thanksgiving, reminding us that nothing really belongs to us, not even our children, that, in this life, everything and everyone is to be out in the hands of God. It’s also an acknowledgment of the autonomy and freedom of each being: Nobody belongs to anyone, not even their families. Then today, we also talk about Purification. The purification of a young mother is another rite that is part of a set of wider rules in Judaism around the shedding of blood. Blood equal life in the Bible (and we can easily understand why). So if you have lost blood, by disease, menstruation or by giving birth, you have to perform a rite to be purified, to be made whole again once you stop bleeding. You do this rite to re-claim your life as your own.

What I think is worth noticing, in this double rite, is that, as the child is acknowledged to be first God’s possession, and as the mother is made whole again, there is a sense of separation between parents and children. Although a family, each one is called to be his or her own person in front of the Lord. Each one in front of their own destiny.

And to me, among other things, this is what the Gospel is about today: Destiny, fate, facing your own future, your own pain and your own death. They certainly didn’t expect that, correct? Jesus, Mary and Joseph came to worship the Lord, but now they end up with a reading. Simeon shows up and prophetize about the child and his mother and, as if it was not enough, he is followed by Anna, another prophetess, to confirm what he’s just said (In Moses’ law, you needed to have two witnesses to make a story believable). And of course, it’s not just the story of Jesus and Mary, but it’s also about the fate of Simeon himself and of all the people, the Israelites, but also the Gentiles – which meant, at the time, basically: the whole universe.

So what do you think about that? Simeon and Anna’s prophecies? Do you think that what happens in life, from our little dramas to the History of nations, do you think it is all random, it has no reason or no ultimate meaning? You probably wouldn’t be at church if you thought so, right? So what then? Do you think this all written in advance, that God knows exactly what is in store for you, and your life is just the unfolding of a script that has been written in advance? Then, do you also think that all that happen in the world is “part of a plan”? Life, death, sufferings, Mary’s broken heart at the foot of the cross? Mothers losing their children, wars and hate, innocent people being thrown to jail?

Well, as we think about these things, we may want to listen closely to our elders, Simeon and Anna. I think this is great we have them in our readings this week. Because it may be a cliché but yes, even if older people aren’t always prophets, they know something about life that others don’t. They have, as we say, “wisdom”, and it’s very sad to realize that old age is not as much valuated today in our Temples as it was at Jesus’s time. I thought about that recently as a few of us commented on social medias about a church pushing away their older members as they were undergoing renovations to be more “relevant”, to attract younger people and families. Somebody commented: “Is it even a church?”- Because of course, you don’t do that, when you’re a church, you don’t push people away. But it is not only because we should be compassionate to the most vulnerable, it is really because seniors have something unique to offer that actually young families and children need to hear – as it is the case in our Gospel today! And so we need the elders’ “wisdom”…but what does it mean?

What is it that older people really have to offer, have to say about life, death and suffering that the youngest generations need so much to hear? What is this wisdom all about? Is it piety, prophecy, the ability to read the future, or is it something much more simple? Well, I had a glimpse of an answer last Sunday, as I was listening to the Presiding Bishop Michael Curry who preached at the revival in Washington DC.

Bishop Curry was telling this story that, after the royal wedding where he preached his famous sermon about the power of love, he was interviewed by a journalist from TMC – and this is what the journalist said to him: “Our audience is mostly Young Adults, they haven’t lived as long as you did, but they heard about what you said about love, about Jesus and they want to believe it is true, that there is really powerful living in love, they want to believe that love can guide you in life, that love can strengthen you for life, they want to believe that when you are pulled down by reality, like the old folks used to say, “Love can lift you up”. But they don’t have lived as long as you have, and they don’t know if it can really work! Preacher, you preached a good sermon but will it work?”. Bishop Curry said that, when he heard that, he had to stop for a while, and then he responded: I have been around long enough to know and believe that love is the only thing that has ever workedAnd he added: “People who made a difference in your life are the ones who cared”.

I have been around long enough to know and believe that love is the only thing that has ever worked”. People who make a difference aren’t those who are brilliant, rich, beautiful or perfect, people who make a difference are the ones who care.

This is to me, what wisdom is about. It’s not so much piety, prophecy, the ability to read the future. It is to have lived a life where you have witnessed love at work, where you have worked for love, and now you can be a witness that love works, that love is the only thing that really works, for our own lives, for our nations and for the whole world. In the words of the Gospel, in the mouth of old Simeon and old Anna: Love has power to redeem and love has the power to save, because love is God, and God showed us how God’s love works in the life of Jesus – in spite of sufferings, heart breaks and even death – love has the last word.

I think this is what Simeon is telling Mary today. It could seem very cruel to say that to a young woman, to a young mother, that “a sword will pierce her own soul”. Why didn’t Simeon stick with the first part about Jesus, that is really amazing? That Jesus is the salvation, the light and the glory? Why does Simeon add the part about Jesus being the cause for the falling of many, a sign of opposition, and that Jesus will eventually break his mother’s heart?

Well, Simeon says about himself that he is at peace. Because Simeon knows about life, sufferings and death and he knows that it is all part of the plan and he wants Mary to know so she won’t fall into despair when Jesus is rejected, hated and crucified. It is part of the plan.

But what does it mean? “It is all part of the plan” is one of the Christian sayings that is the less understood. We often understand it as “God wanted it”, “It had to happen”. And so we make it sound like horrific things needed to happen, that it was even God’s will that there would be suffering and death and even sin, and hate, wars and disasters. But maybe this is not what Simeon means. It is not what Redemption is about. On the other way around, Redemption means that all those terrible things will be assumed and integrated into something bigger, that love will work everything out for the best, even if it is as cruel as to have your own child tortured and executed in front of you. Life is probably not a script written in advance, but in the light of love, everything can and will make sense, even the cross.

Simeon is at peace in front of life, and so he can be at peace in front of death too. The Letter to the Hebrews we have just read tells us that in Christ the power of death has been destroyed, assumed and overcome, and it is also something we need to be reminded today. When most people think about death as the ultimate failure, Simeon welcomes death with a sense of completion, of accomplishment. And it is not so much about what he has been able to do with his life, it is much more about what he knows what God can do. Or maybe because he knows that there is not a single thing that God cannot do, or, in Bishop Curry’s words, that love is the only thing that has ever worked. So let us live in love. Amen.