What do you Treasure?
Treasures at Candlemas 2022
Treasure is a word I absolutely love….it brings up so many thoughts and memories…. Starting with my childhood….I think of Pirates, hidden treasure chests, beautiful gems, riches, wonders, genies in lamps…. Untold mysteries.
The word reminds me of other more tangible treasures of course - that old purple patterned biscuit tin I discovered recently from my childhood, the cactus that flowers each year that I tendered from the age of 3, an ancient byzantine cross given on my 21st birthday, a grandfather clock from my recently departed beloved friend Andrew.
Then of course I have memories…hugs and fun with my parents, very rude jokes from one of my grandmothers, that first kiss, our Civil Partnership, the birth of our children.
Other things of course happen in our lives and feel like anything at the time but treasure.
The experience of being bullied, the fear of prejudice and rejection, the loss of a loved one. These too in time can become treasures … they can become resources we learn from and patterns we are therefore able to challenge and break. Mary Oliver writes in her poem:
‘The Uses of Sorrow’
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
Profound experiences can also of course in time become treasures. In my first curacy I was privileged to provide pastoral care to the most wonderful family. Marian and John were a devoted couple but Marian was very poorly….. I was humbled at each visit by their deep love and affection, their faith and also the extraordinary love of their two amazing daughters. Marian passed away peacefully, held in love and prayers. John followed Marian all too quickly and I am sure both John and Marian are at peace and are making the most wonderful angels. The journey I went on with this family over two years was life changing and I think of them all every time I undertake pastoral care …the treasure, the gift that I received through serving this family has helped me to be a better priest, a better partner, father, son - quite simply a better person. I was through this experience able to be there for my own parents when they needed me.
You will have your own treasures.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, had her own treasures. Many scholars suggest that Luke must have spoken with Mary or perhaps a close surviving member of the family when writing these unique early accounts of Jesus’ infancy that we find in Luke’s Gospel. Luke’s Gospel account records Mary treasuring or pondering these very first memories of Jesus in her heart and I am always touched by this personal and tender reference.
We so rarely hear from women in Holy Scripture so when we do we really need to pay attention.
So one of the things Mary remembers, ponders and treasures in her heart is the presentation of Jesus in the Temple 40 days after his birth. I suspect that the treasures of this memory are very wide ranging, not all simply happy and therefore deeply complex.
In this account, the Holy Family meet Simeon and Anna and the joy of the present becomes fused with the drama and sadness of the future.
Simeon it seems had been told by God he would see the Messiah before he died. There is an urgency and a sense of relief in this encounter as Simeon is coming to the end of his life on earth.
We hear all of this in his song the Nunc Dimittis, that beautiful prayer said at the end of day and often at funerals:
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.
For mine eyes have see thy salvation;
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel
We can hear the satisfaction in this exclamation of faith.
Jesus, the Messiah, the light of the world is here and he has come not just for Israel but for all people! Wow what a relief and what a joy! And yet…and yet….there is that ring of warning and sadness ….Jesus as the Messiah will turn things upside down, it’s going to be very difficult and Mary is told a sword would pierce her heart. Jesus’ death is foretold at this very early start.
Imagine how Mary, this young girl must have felt? The joy, the delight in the recognition but then the warning of a tragic end.
We then hear from Anna…that ancient faithful prophet of the temple….she too has known pain being widowed at such an early age…she has somehow avoided destitution and through her faith has found a place in the Temple and she has been there for many decades. Like Simeon she is a person of faith and especially hope.
Her passionate affirmation of Jesus’ identity must have bolstered Mary at this point. The recognition of another woman must have been consoling … it would have been a long time since she would have seen Elizabeth and benefited from the wisdom and kindness of another woman.
I wonder if Mary remembers this account with Anna and Simeon - not just for the prophetic recognition but because of their example of hope and faith. That despite everything they had remained faithful worshipping in the temple, keeping her eyes fixed on God, praying – prayer and lives rooted in hope.
The Bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek, suggests that ‘ in Anna we glimpse something of the grief and loss and shattered dreams which Mary is yet to experience. Mary remembered Anna, and somehow knew that she too would be able to live with her pain by the grace of God.’ Bishop Rachel calls this 'hope based resilience'.
Many years later when Mary stood at the foot of the cross watching Jesus experience the most horrific death - she knew this wasn't the end that this couldn't be defeat. Yes, in all of this she would have remembered that treasured memory of the good news from the Angel Gabriel all those years before.
Mary I’m sure must have also looked back and recalled those words of Simeon and the example of Anna. These other treasures she received in the Temple. That faith and hope are stronger than death and despair. That she knew the truth that she had given birth to the Light of the world, and the darkness would never overcome that light.
So what do you treasure?
What is happening for you right now that feels anything but treasure?
It is so easy to get overwhelmed but somewhere in all of this there may well be the seed of a gift. A treasure that may in time help us to understand, help us to navigate, get through and perhaps even find hope and joy in situations we will find ourselves in.
What will you ponder in your heart like Mary?....that will build a store of strength, of hope and resilience in you for when you need it.
How might this bless you, bless others and bless the world.