Saluting Anna Chaplains
Updated: Feb 4
Coordinator of Chichester Anna Chaplaincy in West Sussex, David Cooke, has been thinking of the role of women, especially, as he composed this 'Thought for the Day' for Candlemas Sunday last weekend (31 January 2021).
Candlemas Sunday is the day in the church year when we remember the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple (as the first–born male he had to be redeemed by animal sacrifice, his parents choosing the cheaper option!), and for many it is also a focus on the purification of Mary, both functions being in accordance with Jewish law.
This year it falls on 2 February, so I don’t want to steal LouLou's thunder (LouLou Morris, Chichester Anna Chaplain) on Tuesday, but I can make some comments as a male, which she can't, and I’ll confine myself to a very sparse commentary.
For those of us in the Anna Chaplaincy network this is a very significant festival because we derive our name from it. The titles for this day in the nearest European languages are something of a giveaway about this:
German: Mariä Lichtmess
French: Présentation de Jésus au Temple
Spanish: Día de la Virgen de la Candelaria
Whichever emphasis you take, the ‘magic’ number is 40, 40 days after Jesus’ birth, 40 as a symbol of fulfilment, and Candlemas officially marks the end of Christmas tide in the Christian calendar.
Why is it called Candlemas? Why is it one of the twelve great feasts of the year, according the Eastern churches? And why candles?
Because Simeon refers to Jesus as a light to the Gentiles, and candles are a welcome worldwide source and symbol of light, particularly in the areas which experience many hours of seasonal darkness (see Luke 2:22-40, NRSV).
When our network was in embryonic form, one possibility was that we would be called the Simeon & Anna Chaplaincy or some such similar. Obviously we are all grateful for the words of the Nunc Dimittis, ‘Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace’, attributed to Simeon. But it is entirely fair that we take Anna’s name because the vast majority of the people in our network are women, as are the vast majority of carers around the world.
We thank God that Anna was not airbrushed, as it were, out of this gospel account, even though her words about Jesus were not recorded. She is a model of CCDEF – consistency, constancy, devotion, endurance and faithfulness. And these are qualities sadly missing from much of the world these days; fruits of the spirit that are ignored by the powers but pleasing to God.
We can also comment that these qualities were also sadly – and disastrously – missing from the temple authorities. This was Jesus’ first visit, and the most astounding words and prophecies are uttered over and about him. Yet no one remembered these words! Jesus will return to the temple in subsequent years and be unrecognised, despite these celestial messages. This was a disastrous dereliction of duty, leading, in part, to its subsequent destruction.
Anna had watched, waited and prayed, but the temple went back to sleep. I have learned so much in these recent years from the women in this network, and from our local volunteers, who are the sine qua non of our ministry, and on this day I want to salute you, and honour you, and acclaim you for what you have accomplished, and continue to do. I want to apologise for all the times you have been minimised by men, reduced, overlooked, unheard and ignored, dismissed.
Simeon comments that Jesus will be a glory to Israel, to the people to whom he came and among whom he was installed/born/incarnated. You are the glory of this network, for you continue to be his body. Just as Anna’s work of watching and waiting and fasting and prayer was largely unseen and unacknowledged, yet potent in the invisible realms, so too is your heart and work. And glory is both its own reward and will be fully regarded and rewarded. Permit me to salute you all!