Subtitle: Another look at the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
Sub-subtitle: Act 2
Mary and Joseph, according to God’s Law, made their presentation of their newborn son Jesus. There, at the Jerusalem Temple, they met the aged Simeon; he who had longed to behold the coming of God’s Messiah. Seeing and believing that the baby Jesus was the fulfillment of divine promise, Simeon burst forth in a song of praise:
Lord, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.
Through the ages, this Song of Simeon, employed in worship, has been called Nunc dimittis; being the first words, “Now, you (O Lord) dismiss,” rendered in Latin.
The Nunc dimittis, in Anglican and Episcopal Church liturgies, is found in the service of Evening Prayer as worshipers, at the falling of night, prayerfully sing their petition that they might depart for the rest of sleep at peace with God.
The Nunc dimittis also is sung at funerals. And it is this sense of one’s final departure unto death at peace with God that oft has been the interpretive lens through which to understand Simeon’s song of praise. But, as the Bible tells us no more of Simeon, where he went, what happened to him, what if he didn’t die immediately? What if Simeon departed the Temple and, as long as he bore the breath of life, continued serving God, responding faithfully to whatever opportunities presented themselves with whatever capacities he had at his disposal?
On January 26, Kobe Bryant died with eight others, including his daughter Gianna, in a helicopter crash. Since then, one among the countless memorials and tributes to the Los Angeles Lakers basketball legend has struck a resonant chord within me. Kobe Bryant continued to nurture the game of basketball and the labor of life. He was a mentor to many professional players and, as the father of four daughters, he coached a girls’ team. And he wrote a children’s book. And, in 2018, he won an Oscar for the animated short film, Dear Basketball, based on a poem he wrote in 2015 as he approached his imminent retirement.
In a word, Kobe had an Act 2.
Now, for many years, and especially since my early-2015 retirement from full-time ministry, countless have been the inquiries from family members and friends and acquaintances, asking, in so many words, “How long do you plan to preach?” Typically, somewhat whimsically, I have answered, “As long as I can stand up and put two words together to make any sense.” However, for as many years, mindful of the inexorability of mortality, mine and that of all of us, my more serious refrain has been, “As long as God grants me breath and strength, there is life to live and labor to do.”
This, I believe, was true for Simeon and Kobe.
And this, I believe, is true for me and for all who live and breathe, until we live and breathe no more: There’s always an Act 2.
Endnote: The Song of Simeon, Luke 2.29-32
Illustration: Simeon’s Song of Praise (c. 1700), Arent de Gelder (1645-1727)