“Wait and See (Simeon and Anna)” by Richard Bauckham

Sam Nhlengethwa (South African, 1955–), Train Station Waiting Room II, 2014. Photolithograph and Chine collé, 43 × 53 cm. Edition of 10. Collection of the Southern African Foundation For Contemporary Art (SAFFCA). © the artist and Goodman Gallery.

In the drab waiting-room
the failed travellers, resigned, sleep
on the hard benches, inured
to postponement and foul coffee.
Hope has given up on them.

There are also the impatient,
pacing platforms, and the driven,
purple with frustration, abusing
their mobiles, for the hardest part
of waiting is the not doing.

Truly to wait is pure dependence.
But waiting too long the heart
grows sclerotic. Will it still
be fit to leap when the time comes?
Prayer is waiting with desire.

Two aged lives incarnate
century on century
of waiting for God, their waiting-room
his temple, waiting on his presence,
marking time by practicing

the cycle of the sacrifices,
ferial and festival,
circling onward, spiralling
towards a centre out ahead,
seasons of revolving hope.

Holding out for God who cannot
be given up for dead, holding
him to his promises—not now,
not just yet, but soon, surely,
eyes will see what hearts await.

Richard Bauckham, FRSE, FBA, is a renowned English biblical scholar and theologian, whose many published works include The Theology of the Book of Revelation (1993) and Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (2006). He’s also a hobbyist poet! I’ve published this poem with his permission. It’s inspired by Luke 2:22–38, which describes two elderly Jews, “righteous and devout,” who had been “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” the Messiah, for many years and finally encountered him at the temple one day in the infant Jesus of Nazareth. This “Presentation at the Temple,” as the episode is called, is commemorated yearly by Christians on February 2, Candlemas.

Bauckham’s definition of prayer—“waiting with desire”—is the most succinct, and probably the best, I’ve ever heard. His poem enjoins us to assume the same “waiting with desire” posture as Simeon and Anna as we look fervently toward the Christ’s second coming, when God will dwell with humanity face to face once again, this time everlastingly.

My Eyes Have Seen (Artful Devotion)

Blanco, Severino_Simeon Blessing the Christ Child
Severino Blanco, Simeon Blessing the Christ Child, 1980s. Image courtesy of Ayopaya Mission.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

—Luke 2:25–32

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SONG: “You Send Your Servant Forth in Peace” by Steve Thorngate, on After the Longest Night: Songs for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany (2018)

 

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Severino Blanco is a Quechuan Christian artist from Cochabamba, Bolivia. In the early 1980s he was commissioned by Father Manfred Rauh (1932–2011), a Jesuit missionary from Germany who spent most of his priestly life in Bolivia, to create a Life of Christ painting cycle for the interior of the chapel of the Casa del Catequista (CADECA), a training center for catechists. To make the gospel story really come alive for the catechists, who are mostly Quechua and Aymara, Blanco chose to set it in an Andean context, with Jesus as an indigenous South American—fully human, fully immersed in history and culture, fully for them. The images are reproduced, with commentary, in the German-language book Von Befreiung und Erlösung: Bilder in CADECA Cochabamba/Bolivien (Of Liberation and Redemption: Pictures in CADECA Cochabamba, Bolivia). A few can also be viewed online here, here, and here. The chapel was consecrated in 1984 and is still in use.

Though I couldn’t confirm it, I believe Blanco’s Simeon Blessing the Christ Child is located in the CADECA chapel. Joseph, dressed in poncho and chullo (knitted hat with earflaps), carries two little birds to present as an offering for his son’s dedication. Mary, barefoot, is dressed in a red hooded shawl and a long blue skirt—the colors traditionally associated with Mary in the West—and has just laid down what I’m guessing might be an aguayo, the sling she uses to transport Jesus on her back. (Or perhaps it’s Simeon’s hat, which he removed in reverence?) As for Jesus, he is swaddled in colorful, patterned, homespun wool. When Mary passes the babe to Simeon, he is elated to receive into his arms salvation incarnate. He turns his eyes upward to God the Father, whose presence is suggested by a golden sun-face, whose rays shine forth also in the halo of the Son. The designs on these terminals, and around the border of the painting, are deeply influenced by traditional Andean art.

“A light for revelation to the Gentiles,” salvation prepared for “all peoples”—these phrases from the lectionary jingle in my ears as I meditate on Blanco’s painting.

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Here are the Artful Devotions for Candlemas from the previous two church year cycles:


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, cycle A, click here.

Now I’ve Seen It All (Artful Devotion)

Simeon in the Temple by Rembrandt
Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Simeon in the Temple, 1669. Oil on canvas, 98.5 × 79.5 cm. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden.

Candlemas, celebrated every year on February 2, commemorates the presentation of Jesus at the temple forty days after his birth, according to Jewish custom (Luke 2:22–40). While there, the Holy Family encountered Simeon, an elderly man, “righteous and devout,” who was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” Though weak and tired with age, he was told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before laying eyes on the messiah of his people, and he banked on that promise. When the Spirit led him to the temple that day, he beheld the baby Jesus and knew instantly that this was the One he had been waiting for—and not only him, but the whole world. He took the child in his arms and sang this canticle, known in church tradition as the “Nunc dimittis” (“Now you dismiss . . .”):

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel. (vv. 28–32)

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SONG: “Until My Dying Day Has Come” by Carl-Eric Tangen, from Incarnation Hymns (2008)

 

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Probably Rembrandt’s last painting, Simeon in the Temple was found unfinished on an easel in his studio when he died. It depicts this enlightening moment from Luke 2, in which Simeon recognizes the Christ and exults—quietly, gratefully—in his salvation. The woman in the shadows, thought to be a later addition by another’s hand, is probably the prophetess Anna, though some suppose her to be Mary.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, cycle B, click here.