As Christians celebrate Candlemas this week and the contribution of Simeon and Anna, thoughts turn to what we were doing this time last year – commemorating a decade's worth of the chaplaincy for older people inspired by the widow Anna of Luke's gospel.
Anna and Simeon were fine role models of faithful older people who looked to the future. As well as a beautiful anniversary service at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, last February, hundreds of miles further north more than 30 Anna Chaplains were being commissioned at a special Candlemas service in Morpeth, Northumberland.
This year to mark this important time in the church calendar for Anna Chaplaincy, we feature a sermon that was being delivered today (31 January 2021) by Anna Chaplain in Rochester, Christine Seth-Smith. Find out more about Anna Chaplaincy and Christine's story in the BRF 'Pray with us' bulletin.
Despite the pandemic and visiting restrictions Christine, a former primary school teacher, has been keeping in touch with older people by making socially distanced doorstep visits.
Sermon for Sunday 31st January 2021 –
(based on Luke 2:22-40)
“A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel”
Exactly a year ago I was invited to attend a special service at Christ Church Cathedral, in Oxford, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Anna Chaplaincy. The Anna Chaplaincy movement offers emotional and spiritual support to people in later life, and is part of the Bible Reading Fellowship (or BRF). Many of you receive New Daylight or similar, published by BRF, which I personally find an inspiration for each day. BRF is an exceptional Christian charity with a vision to help all ages grow in faith. Anna Chaplaincy, however, is a growing ecumenical movement which aims to provide support for older men and women (and their carers) who may have ‘strong, little or no faith’. It is named after the widow Anna who, together with Simeon, appears in the reading from Luke which we have just heard.
Candlemas celebrates the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. He was brought there by Mary and Joseph, acknowledging that he belonged to God, who alone has the power to give life. Simeon, in his wisdom, recognised Jesus as the Messiah who would be the light of the whole world, when he said: “For my eyes have seen your salvation… a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel”. In other words, for everyone.
At the service in Oxford, we sang the hymn, ‘In a world where people walk in darkness’ which I had never heard before. It seems to have become the Anna Chaplaincy hymn! The words really spoke to me; and sung by a cathedral choir, the music is glorious.Please follow the link below where the hymn is sung by the Choir of Canterbury Cathedral:
Our world does seem dark in many ways just now, especially with the pandemic. For older people it can seem even more so if they feel cut off from society, unable to get out at all and experience loneliness. Many do not have the benefits of modern technology such as smart phones and computers, and therefore cannot access live-streaming or zoom meetings which have become very popular, and indeed a lifeline for many of us, in the last year.
The hymn (see below for the words) reminds us very powerfully that ‘the light is stronger than the darkness’ and when a candle is lit, it reminds us to ‘turn our faces to the light’. We are given hope. We all need hope, and it is almost impossible to live without it. Our hope is in Jesus as we ‘bear the Cross of Christ with gladness’ and look forward to the resurrection.
Simeon and Anna both had a very close relationship with God and were led by the Holy Spirit. The passage from Luke is really beautiful – imagine the joy these two elderly people must have felt when they beheld the infant Jesus (who was now about a month old). Their whole lives had been leading towards this moment – Simeon felt a total sense of peace. They were among the earliest people to bear witness to Jesus.
As we get older, our bodies are less able than they were, and sometimes let us down. Our minds may not be as sharp as they used to be, and we may feel insecure. But as we ‘turn our faces to the light’ our spirits can soar. We can feel close to God and he will draw near to us.
Older people often have a lot to offer the younger generations. Cast your minds back to last April when we were all captivated by the determination, resilience and charm of Captain Tom Moore when he raised millions of pounds for the NHS, as he neared his 100th birthday. We may not all be like Sir Tom, or the Queen who is now in her mid-90s, or even the American President who is heading towards 80, but in our own small way, we can be inspired to do what we can. I love the sense of humour of many older people, the twinkle in their eyes, their stories, their wisdom, the comfort of their presence and sometimes a listening ear – it is so often a privilege to be in their company.
Perhaps at this time, we can all check on our elderly neighbours up and down the road. Give them a ring, or pop a card through the door so they know that someone is thinking of them, or even have a safely distanced chat on their doorstep.
I am going to close with the Anna Chaplaincy prayer –
Faithful God, you have promised in Christ to be with us to the end of time. Come close to those who have lived long and experienced much. Help them to continue to be faithful and, within the all-age kingdom of God to find ways to go on giving and receiving your grace, day by day. For your glory and your kingdom. Amen.
In a world where people walk in darkness
Let us turn our faces to the light,
to the light of God revealed in Jesus,
to the Daystar scattering our night.
For the light is stronger than the darkness
and the day will overcome the night,
though the shadows linger all around us,
let us turn our faces to the light.
In a world where suff’ring of the helpless
casts a shadow all along the way,
let us bear the Cross of Christ with gladness
and proclaim the dawning of the day.
For the light is stronger than the darkness…
Let us light a candle in the darkness,
in the face of death, a sign of life.
As a sign of hope where all seems hopeless,
as a sign of peace in place of strife.
For the light is stronger than the darkness…
WORDS: Robert Willis (b. 1947)
MUSIC: Richard Shepherd (b. 1949)
Common Praise 476