Faith Matters: February holidays offer signs of hope

  • Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew, in Greenfield. Jan. 10, 2017. Paul Franz

  • The Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm. Recorder file photo/PAUL FRANZ

Associate Rector, Saints James and Andrew
Published: 2/8/2019 1:58:45 PM

February 2, a week ago today, is a day of significance across many times and traditions. It’s the midpoint between the winter solstice and Spring equinox, and celebrated as Groundhog Day in North America. In pre-Christian Northern Europe, the day was associated with the Goddess Brigid and celebrated with preparations for Spring, including the first milking of ewes, removing ashes from the hearth and clearing dead vegetation from the gardens to make way for new growth. In the British Isles the day is commemorated as Candlemas: the clergy bless the candles that will light churches and homes in the year ahead, and candles are carried in procession throughout the town.

For most Christian denominations, the date falls in the middle of our Epiphany season. During Epiphany, our designated readings follow the story of Jesus’ recognition as the Anointed One, beginning with the visit by the star-guided Magi from the East, continuing with Jesus’ own baptism and first miracle at the wedding at Cana. Epiphany reminds us that the Sacred surrounds us and invites us to have the same readiness of those we encounter in the gospel narratives to recognize the God’s presence in diverse and unexpected places in our own lives.

February 2 marks the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. In the story found in Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ parents take him to the Temple forty days after his birth to fulfill the traditional rituals of naming and dedication and are surprised (and probably disconcerted) that the infant is recognized as the awaited Messiah by not one but two elderly prophets, Simeon and Anna. These elders have been waiting, in hope, for a sign of God’s promised redemption in their suffering world. Simeon has been told by the Spirit that he will not die until he has seen the face of the Redeemer. When Mary and Joseph appear in the Temple with Jesus, Simeon and Anna both recognize God’s sign in the infant’s face. Simeon utters a beautiful, poetic declaration that we now use in evening worship:

Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised; For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior.

It seems to me that all of these holidays, Christian and otherwise, speak to where we are and offer what we need in these days of early February 2019, as they have to generations before us. We are worn down by winter’s old, dark days and waiting, hoping and ready for the coming of Spring. We are needing and watching for the increasing light. Like Simeon and Anna, we need hope. I think it’s also fair to assume that all of us are also longing for a better world than the one we see around us. Are we not looking for the hungry to be fed, the sick to be healed, the world to know peace? For equality and justice in a world dominated by division and hatred?

In Luke’s tale, seeing the Messiah was enough for Simeon and Anna. As people of faith today, we recognize that the work of healing a broken world requires our efforts, even as we recognize that our efforts as individuals, or even as communities, are not sufficient. Nonetheless, there is work to do. We need to sweep the ashes from the hearth and clear away the deadwood. We must bless everything that brings light, joy and warmth to those who have been without, bearing candles in procession to the places where they are needed.

About the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew

We believe God is calling us to cultivate a community of love, joy, hope and healing. Jesus is our model for a life of faith, compassion, hospitality and service. We strive to be affirming and accessible, welcoming and inclusive; we seek to promote reconciliation, exercise responsible stewardship, and embrace ancient traditions for modern lives.

On Sundays, we worship with a spoken Holy Eucharist at 8 a.m. in the Chapel, and the 10 a.m. service of Eucharist in the church includes music and is accompanied by Sunday School twice a month. The office is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon. All are welcome. We are at 8 Church St. 413-773-3925. www.saintsjamesandandrew.org




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