God of the covenant, in the glory of the cross your Son embraced the power of death and broke its hold over your people. In this time of repentance, draw all people to yourself, that we who confess Jesus as Lord may put aside the deeds of death and accept the life of your kingdom. Amen.
Scripture Luke 2:25-34
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Why is Simeon’s prayer so positive and glowing while his words to Jesus’ parents are so harsh?
What is the sword that Simeon references and what does he imply in saying they will experience wounding?
It is Lent a time of reflection and repentance, and though the story of Jesus’ dedication is more closely associated with Epiphany in the Church calendar I think this story has something to teach us during Lent. As I was reading this passage I was struck by the words “a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Though this message is immediately directly toward Jesus’ parents I think there must be some meaning for us and in some ways to take Jesus at his word means to step into the shoes of Mary and Joseph as they listened to this elderly man laud their son.
He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:48-50
“What does this mean?” is a very loaded question because it often implies that there is just one meaning but that is not the case in this verse. I do not believe there is only one right answer to how the sword will cut the family of Jesus, and throughout Lent I plan to focus each week on a different way in which the sword cuts through us. Lent is about preparing for blood, and though we often think about Jesus’ healing blood flowing from the cross, there is a reality to the fact the we ourselves are being pierced in this process. It is right for Isaac Watts to marvel:
1 Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die! Would he devote that sacred head for sinners such as I? 2 Was it for crimes that I have done, he groaned upon the tree? Amazing pity! Grace unknown! And love beyond degree! 3 Well might the sun in darkness hide, and shut its glories in, when God, the mighty maker, died for his own creature's sin. 4 Thus might I hide my blushing face while his dear cross appears; dissolve my heart in thankfulness, and melt mine eyes to tears. 5 But drops of tears can ne'er repay the debt of love I owe. Here, Lord, I give myself away; 'tis all that I can do.
But it is also right for us to see the cost that is before us. I can imagine Joseph and Mary listening to Simeon and thinking, “What did I get myself in to?” Frankly, if I had heard an old man say something like this about one of my children I would be telling myself that he is a nut and trying to dismiss the whole thing (and the angel was the pizza disagreeing with me). The message that we are going to suffer because of and with Jesus is not a comforting thought. Yet here we are another Lent, the time when we burn palms, wear ashes, fast, and pray all to remember the hurt and pain our sin has unleashed on the world. Our repentance is far more than God like a parent speaking to a child saying, “Now say you’re sorry.” The repentance of Lent is us taking it upon ourselves to reflect upon the consequences of sin in this world, the burdens we bear and the burdens we have caused others to bear. It is about recognizing how we have continued the sins of our ancestors, wronged God, and grieved God by our treatment of humanity and creation.
I wonder how Simeon’s message impacted Jesus’ parents, how could they prepare for the life ahead of them? I would imagine they continued on as normal for some time, what else could they do? I think these words would not have meant much to them in the moment, much like I doubt they meant much to you when you first encountered them. These words were for a different person for a different time. But nonetheless they still have meaning for the person hearing them. To accept life in Jesus’ family is to accept the sword, not a sword we get to wield against our enemies but one that strikes our very soul. Simeon tells this poor couple they will experience a hurt that cuts to their very core. To me these words suggest that Jesus’ family is going to experience a fatal or near fatal wound. The sword does not represent a minor inconvenience, it represents a blow that may well destroy you. Too often I am lulled to sleep by minor hiccups, never fully appreciating how comfortable I am. Lent is a time to break up the comfort and routine. We fast and pray specifically to inconvenience ourselves and remember the terrible cost of sin.
One practice I recommend is reading the lament Psalms and trying to really feel the pain and grief of the authors. This will take some time since we might not readily relate to the pain of sin but if we sit with the psalms for a time they will take on a new meaning for us. Take time over the course of the week to begin to think whether or not you are experiencing the sword cutting your own soul, if not ask yourself why not?
Individual: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 35, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42-43, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 64, 69, 70, 71, 77, 86, 88, 89, 102, 109, 120, 130, 139, 141, 142, 143.
Communal: 12, 44, 58, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 90, 94, 123, 126, 129