Queen's counsel VIII

April 2002

The Anglican tradition is well known for seeking to hold in creative tension a great diversity of faith perspectives.  Earlier this year, the Association of Ordinands and Candidates for Ministry (AOCM) held their first “Day of Worship and Reflection” including workshops on a range of topical issues, a plenary session drawing together speakers representing this great diversity and a concluding Eucharist in which we shared our common vision.

It was a superb day, focussed at St. Philip’s Cathedral but drawing in various other church facilities in Birmingham City Centre.  It was especially good to be celebrating the “Presentation of Christ in the Temple”, commonly known as Candlemas and to have Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Wales, chairing the plenary and presiding at the Eucharist.

He inspired and challenged us in his sermon by saying that “Candlemas celebrates a figure who is glad to withdraw once he's witnessed the encounter between Jesus and the world. One of the challenges for ordained ministry is whether we can celebrate such a grateful withdrawal when we've witnessed such an encounter, rather than intruding ourselves and our agenda into the encounter.” – the figure is Simeon and the withdrawal he refers to is expressed in the Nunc Dimittis: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace …” (Luke 2:29-32).

You may remember Simeon’s next words: “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35) Now that we have followed again the story through to Easter and we have experienced the falling away of the disciples in the Garden, the agony at the cross, the gnawing emptiness of the tomb and the surprise, initial disbelief and final exhilaration of the resurrection, we may marvel at the deep insight that Simeon showed early in the life of Jesus.

In the Cathedral, we finished the worship with a candlelit procession from the altar to the font (from death to life).  Everyone had a candle and the light spread from the front to the back as the procession came by.  At Easter, we rekindle a new fire in our hearts and light the paschal candle to remind us of life’s source - Christ, the light of the world.  With Simeon, we can wonder at this life being “the light of all people.” (John 1:4) and with Rowan Williams, may we all be inspired by the great prayer of Jesus to his heavenly Father (John 17:17-18):

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
As you have sent me into the world,
so I have sent them into the world.

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