February 2 – Simeon & Anna

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Simeon & Anna, witnesses to Jesus

Simeon and Anna appear in the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Forty days after his birth and according to the Law, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem so the he might be named, and Mary could undergo the Rite of Purification of the mother.

When they entered the Temple, there were two people who recognised God’s son. Faith was not dead in Israel, there was still a remnant.

We are first of all introduced to Simeon. We are told he is a righteous and devout man who was waiting for God to deliver Israel. Luke tells us that Simeon had the Holy Spirit upon him and that he had been told he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Therefore, the Holy Spirit had prompted him to come to the Temple because God’s Messiah had come.

Upon seeing Jesus, he took him in his arms and speaks a prophecy. This has become known as the ‘Nunc Dimittis’, from the first words of its Latin translation, ‘now dismiss’. Simeon was ready to die. He had seen the Messiah, God’s salvation.

Simeon was familiar with the scriptures and his insight flowed from this knowledge. He was referring to a passage from Isaiah about waiting for the restoration of Jerusalem; for the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, who God had promised. Jews of that time had taken the scriptural prophecies to mean that they, the Jews; either those who kept the Torah or those born Jews, would be saved, but they had not recognised that God spoke about him bringing salvation to the whole world, Jew and Gentile. In giving the prophecy of Simeon, Luke is letting his non-Jewish listeners know that Christ came to save all who believe. Simeon tells Mary that although the offer of salvation is for all peoples, it will not be received by everyone. Luke uses this theme throughout his Gospel.

The second person we meet is Anna. Anna means grace. She is called ‘Daughter of Penuel’. Penuel is the place where Jacob wrestled with the angel and means ‘I have seen Gods face, yet my life is preserved.’

Anna we are told is an elderly woman. She is either 84 years old or a widow for 84 years which would make her over 100 years old. She is described as a prophet and had given her life to prayer and fasting, both night and day. We are told she never left the Temple. Anna thanked God and then told everyone about the Messiah.

There is much we can learn from these two elderly saints. While the authorities carried on with their religious duties these two prayerful people recognised in Jesus that the Messiah had come to the Temple. Simeon tells us that the challenge of Christ causes people to reveal their true attitudes. Some will speak against the sign of God’s love, it searches their hearts, some will be scandalised by a salvation that can only be achieved by way of a cross.

Simeon can now depart this life in peace, but Anna wants everyone to know that the Messiah has come and had come for all who receive him.

Rev Peter Welsh