My eyes have seen
Luke 2:22-40

Our traditional communion liturgy includes the words of our gospel reading today, we even call it the Song of Simeon.  In the context of the liturgy we come to these words after we have received the body and blood of Christ in, with and under the bread and the wine.  It is our departure point, all that is left from there is the post communion prayer, a hymn and the benediction or blessing.

As we say or sing the words, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word.  For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all people; a light to reveal you to the nations, and the glory of your people Israel” we naturally see them as words of dismissal for us from the sacrament and the worship service itself.  In one sense this is correct and healthy for us to hear and understand, our Lord Jesus Christ has come to us in the holy meal.  He is here with us in the bread and the wine.  Our eyes have seen him, so it makes sense that we can now depart in peace, because we have seen and experienced and we are forgiven, so we should rightly go in peace.

But then in the context of our gospel reading the meaning is slightly different.  Simeon had been waiting for the coming of the promised Messiah.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  The Holy Spirit then moved him to recognise this child that had been brought into the temple by Mary and Joseph as that Messiah.  He took the child in his arms and spoke those now familiar words.  He was now free to die, the promise to him had been fulfilled, he knew he wouldn’t die until it happened but now he can die in peace knowing that he and the people of Israel have a saviour, a Messiah.  THE Messiah.

It didn’t necessarily mean that he was going to be struck down dead on the spot, but that now that God’s promise to him had been fulfilled he could literally die in peace.

That’s an interesting concept, dying in peace.  It’s something we probably all secretly hope for, that when our time comes we will indeed depart in peace.  That of course means different things to different people.  For some that would simply be to pass away peacefully in their sleep, without suffering.  For others it might mean having put all of your ducks in a row, finished off your bucket list and have completed all of the tasks you deem necessary in this world.  Still others would hope that when their time comes they will be able to stare death in the eye and feel no anxiety, no fear, but accept it willingly and obediently.

The harsh fact of the matter is we have virtually no control over any of the factors I just listed.  We don’t know the day or the hour or the circumstances surrounding the ending of our physical lives let alone have control over how and when it will take place, although those who are pro-euthanasia would like to think that they should be allowed to.  I don’t know if it is possible to complete all of the tasks we set ourselves in this life successfully, there’s always something else to add to the list.  Then when it comes to being able to trust fully in God and hand it all over to him so that we are ready without fear or anxiety is a huge ask, our human doubts and fears will be there even just a little bit in the most faithful of believers.

Anyone who as ever spent some time with someone who knows that their days are numbered will usually tell you that there are doubts and fears that arise from time to time.  I’m not saying that there aren’t exceptions but on the whole we do fear.  It’s a fear of the unknown, we have faith, we have hope, but none of us have ever seen heaven, we haven’t given that mansion that Jesus has gone to prepare for us a test run.  What God has revealed to us in scripture about life in heaven is a little unclear.  I shared with someone this week the text that is used at many weddings, 1 Corinthians 13 includes after the list of ‘love is…” statements the following “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

We aren’t meant to know fully yet, for now we just see a reflection in a mirror that is almost like a riddle that we don’t quite understand.  When the fullness of time comes, we will know fully even as we have been fully known.  We will understand as well as God knows each of us.  He knows us by name and has called us to be his children, we are baptised and come at his calling to receive his body and blood in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  That’s about as much as we are meant to know yet.  The rest is just a bit hard for us to comprehend, so we haven’t got it yet.
What we do know is that when the time comes we just need to hand it all over to God, ask for him to send his Holy Spirit on us, to help us to depart in peace.  Simeon didn’t say, “Lord I’ve got myself ready, everything’s in order, take me now.” He said “As you promised you may now dismiss your servant in peace.”  God had set the agenda, he had fulfilled his promise, and Simeon was merely affirming that.

It was in God’s time he sent his son, born of the Virgin Mary.  She obediently brought him to the temple for the purification rites and Simeon was there waiting.  The salvation had come and he was a witness to it, as was Anna the widow, who also knew the pain of facing death, the death of a loved one and had lived as a widow for eighty four years, more than most of our lifetimes.
Their roles had been fulfilled through the work of God in their lives, they were now ready to see what would come next all in God’s good time and according to his good and gracious will.
The light of Christ has come into the world so that God will be revealed to all nations and his glory to the people of Israel, through him. All will be revealed to you fully when your time comes.  Times of fear and doubting will come for all of us at some point, but all you have to do is receive the love and grace of God and allow him to love you and care for you as he gives you his peace, the peace that surpasses all human understanding.