As I am sure many of you will know this year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses on the door of the cathedral in Wittenberg. There can be no doubt that Luther’s reformation principles were instrumental in Thomas Cranmer’s decision in 1549 to write his first Book of Common Prayer. And so, it feels right that we should celebrate and worship using the BCP this year. We will be reflecting further on Luther, the good bits and the less than good bits, throughout the year.
The 1549 Prayer Book, it is fair to say, was not received with universal acclaim. There were riots in the west country as the men of Somerset & Cornwall felt that the Prayer Book was being imposed on them. Others felt the 1549 Prayer Book was too catholic. Cranmer therefore revised his initial work and a second prayer book was published in 1552.
The 1552 Prayer Book, which was the source document for 1662 Prayer Book, was far more protestant. Cardinal Newman and his collaborators, or co-reformers, believed that Cranmer’s true intent was the 1549 Prayer Book, their analysis of which gave birth to the Anglo Catholic movement. Anyway this is all a bit by the by.
What we can say, however, with absolute certainty is that Cranmer would not have approved of the way that the Prayer Book is used in cathedrals and churches today. For Cranmer hymns, anthems, choir robes, supplementary intercessions and possibly even sermons written by the vicar would have been an absolute ‘no no.’ He wouldn’t have liked the way that we have reformed or reclaimed the Prayer Book for our own use and context. Traditions must however must be allowed to live and breathe, otherwise they are of no use.
My words for today as you might have picked are reformation and reclamation, or re-claimation. And, these two words are highly relevant to our understanding of Candlemas. Candlemas is also known the Purification of the Blessed Virgin and the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. We can view the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Christ in the Temple as mere historical acts or as an insight into Jewish religious rituals. But, I believe we need to also read them through the lens of allegory and in so doing allow them to reform us and reclaim the message of Jesus Christ, in the process allowing ourselves to be reformed. We also need to understand the relevance of the likes of the prophet Malachi alongside Simeon and Anna for us today.
Let’s start with Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets, and in so doing we should also remember that Jesus great claim is to be the fulfilment of the prophets. Malachi is concerned that the life of the temple should be characterised by compassion and justice leading to relief for the widows and orphans, and a general commitment to healing and reconciliation. Malachi suggests that the people of the Temple need to reclaim these values so that the Temple may be both reformed and purified. Malachi hints that purification rituals in themselves are hollow without a commitment to live by and model kingdom values. The church’s purity today is revealed by how it lives not just by what it does. An exclusive focus on doing and performing was in many ways the sin of the Temple, the sin Jesus came to cleanse and purify. We must make sure that this doesn’t become our sin.
Turning to the gospel Simeon provides us with the radical understanding that salvation is for all. Jesus is to be light for everyone. Religion for the first time is to be truly hospitable and inclusive. Access to grace and mercy is no longer just for the Jews, it is for all. Do we sometimes in our worst moments want the Christian religion to be reserved for people like you and me?
Anna reminds us of the importance of patience and joy. Are we prepared to be as prayerful and trusting as Anna? Do we regard Jesus as a source of great joy? Are we like Anna prepared to allow ourselves to dance and sway, (even in Matins?) Are we like Anna infectious in the exercise of our faith?
So the question for the church as we celebrate Candlemas is straightforward:
Are we prepared to reclaim again and again the great religious traditions of compassion, justice, healing, reconciliation, patience, prayerfulness, trust and joy? Because if we are, our faith and common life will be infectious. We will be in Simeon’s terms light; light for all.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown