With all due respect to Bill Murray and (especially South Carolina’s) Andie MacDowell, let’s skip the Groundhog Day references today because, well, we’ve been living that feature for the past year! (No groundhogs were harmed in the making of this devotional) No, instead…ready…set…IGNITE!! Light ‘em up tonight dear readers! Today, the 40th Day after Christmas, courtesy of my historical heartthrob Egeria the Spanish nun pilgrim, is CANDLEMAS!! (Astute readers of these devotionals may have figured out when the church wants to celebrate, simply append a MAS to the end of it. SpouseMas anyone, who’s with me?!)
The pre-Egerian origins of Candlemas are shrouded in mystery and academic conjecture, but let’s get real. Special candles burned from Christmas Eve until tonight in Christian homes during these days of darkest winter, not so hard to comprehend in a world without electricity. A new candle was brought into churches by families to be blessed tonight; I still have my tri-woven beeswax candle purchased in Jerusalem’s suk (marketplace) which I last lit this past Easter and Christmas Eve. I’ll light it tonight (am sure the neighbors are completely comfortable with these moments as they walk their dogs past my candlelit living room at night) as I pray for you, our beloved church family, and God’s people everywhere. Any special candle will do, and please be careful when you do. By tradition any remaining Christmas decorations will be taken down, as there was a gradual exiting from the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle towards Ash Wednesday and the Lent/Easter/Pentecost cycle. More on that later. Let’s not keep my historical travel squeeze waiting! She records:
Note that the Fortieth Day…is observed here with special magnificence. On this day they assemble in the Anastasis. Everyone gathers, and things are done with the same solemnity as at the Feast of Easter. All the priests preach first, then the bishop, and they interpret the passage from the Gospel about Joseph and Mary taking the Lord to the Temple, and about Simeon and the Prophetess Anna, daughter of Phanuel, seeing the Lord, and what they said to him, and about the sacrifice offered by his parents. When all the rest has been done in the proper way, the celebrate the sacrament and receive their dismissal.
Some notes to remember…..recall Egeria is journaling from late 4th century AD/CE Jerusalem, a city lavished with a massive building and works program by Constantine and his successor Byzantine emperors as that empire swells with wealth from three continents. One of the most capable bishops to ever serve this see city is leading the worship, Saint Cyril the Great, whose extensive liturgical innovations provided us with our current Holy Week and Eastertide Prayer Book worship. They are in the original Church of the Holy Sepulchre, containing both the Rock of Calvary and the Empty Tomb, an architectural masterwork of early Byzantine monument. Our intrepid Spanish nun is among hundreds or perhaps even thousands of Christian pilgrims suddenly able to travel safely to Jerusalem to see firsthand all the sites they’ve imagined their entire lives. The date of Christmas and Epiphany is still in flux, as is the liturgical calendar. The commemoration Egeria describes is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, still commemorated today due to Egeria’s reckoning. Luke’s dense incarnation narrative provides all the details Egeria excitedly records. And dear friends, Egeria is one of the sole, and therefore authoritative, voices to speak to us of all these moments which otherwise would be utterly lost to us. So, light a candle tonight with my blessing, maybe tuck away any remaining Christmas items, and take a moment to ponder how this young infant can elicit such complete devotion from young and old. Happy Candlemas. Ashes are not far from here!
- Certainly not for the faint of heart, but those wishing to read Egeria (or by name anywhere close to this spelling, as she has several aliases!) please see here. Begin about section 45 and note the text below are footnotes not Egeria’s actual text. You’ll always know it’s her!
- Speaking of deep dives…for those wishing a more extensive exploration of Christianity’s true mother church, please watch here. Yes, I know his voice is somewhat painful to bear as the video unfolds, but the informational script and excellent graphics hopefully counterbalance! If you don’t want so deep a dive then jump to about 14:00, 16:55 and 21 to see the monumental church as it looked to Egeria. Or, for a more contemporary perspective, this Israeli tour guide does a great job introducing you to today’s Sepulchre.
- And please join me in prayer for today: Almighty and everliving God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.