For the imaginatively inclined, the church calendar provides endless opportunities to delve into stories creatively. The upcoming Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord (February 2), falling precisely forty days after Christmas, is no exception. As a pedagogical strategy, projecting ourselves into the story gives us a chance to playfully engage with the material, increasing the likelihood of making unexpected connections. Moreover, full immersion in the biblical narratives seems to be the starting point for many of our hymns, making our hymnody fertile ground for meditation or personal devotion.
For example, as we read the episode in the second chapter of Luke, we come to the Temple with Mary and Joseph not only for duty’s sake (complying with the prescribed rituals of the day) but recognizing that without providential grace, life could easily get out control. So, at the Temple we join the holy family in giving God God’s due: while Mary and Joseph give thanks for the gift of Jesus, Mary’s firstborn, we offer thanks for Christ, the second Adam. Jaroslav Vajda’s poem, “Where Shepherd Lately Knelt” (ACS 909), makes us witnesses to the scene. “I come in half belief, a pilgrim strangely stirred,” it says, and almost demurely pronounces the self-reflective realization, “But there is room and welcome there for me.”
Reading further, we sing with Simeon the Nunc dimittis (Luke 2:29-32). Simeon was the first, or so tradition holds, to embrace death joyfully. The hymn, “Lord Dismiss Us with Your Blessing” (ELW 546), echoes Simeon’s sentiment. The popular sending hymn now opens itself up as a meditation on mortality. Its third stanza tackles the fear of death and addresses our existential condition directly: “Savior, when your love shall call us from our struggling pilgrim way, let no fear of death appall us, glad your summons to obey. May we ever reign with you in endless day.”
Finally, we join Anna the prophet, the old widow who fasted and prayed in the temple all the time. With her, we share the good news of the child who is the light for revelation to the Gentiles. With Anna, our witness erupts into doxology as we sing the first stanza of ELW 417, “In his temple now behold him, see the long expected Lord!”
As we continue singing ELW 417, even more surprising still is the reversal we discover in stanza three. We realize that in the presentation of Jesus, it is we who are being readied to be given back to God: “Jesus, by your presentation, when they blessed you weak and poor, make us see your great salvation, seal us with your promise sure, and present us, in your glory, to your Father, cleansed and pure.” After making this connection, the words of ELW 692, “We Are an Offering,” sound impossibly more expansive: “All that we have, all that we are, all that we hope to be, we give to you.”
Thanks be to God for the gift of salvation in Christ Jesus! Amen.