My two favorite feast days of the liturgical year are not big name celebrations.
Certainly, I get goosebumps hearing the first strains of “O come, O come Immanuel” or “Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” each Advent. Knowing that the palm branches so green the year before become cross-shaped soot smudged on my brow never ceases to quiet me, dust to dust. And in turn, I wave those palms and wash feet and listen in morning darkness to the story of salvation across the centuries, and wear red for tongues of flame and gifts poured out.
All great and important days.
Yet two less known, not widely celebrated feasts fill me with simple, smiling delight. The first is sometime around October 4th, St Francis Day. All the animals get to come to church for a blessing. Hamsters, cats, dogs, rabbits, birds. Or in rural areas… sheep, horses, chickens, goats, the whole peaceable kingdom come to worship.
“Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the might mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.” Psalm 36:5-6
My other favorite day is…today. Known by a number of names, Candlemas, or the Presentation, remembers Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to the Temple to be offered in service to the Lord as a first-born son. In Luke’s Gospel, the family is met by Simeon and Anna, who have both longed to see the Messiah:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32
In many churches, Candlemas is when all the candles set-aside for the coming year’s worship are blessed. At St James Cathedral, Seattle, this is taken seriously: hundreds upon hundreds of creamy beeswax candles are stacked around the baptismal font, enfolding worshippers in their delicious honey fragrance. My mouth waters with the memory.
But even in the midst of celebration, there is a prophecy of the coming sorrow. The church year begins to look toward Holy Week. In the scripture readings for the day, Mary is told by Simeon that “a sword will pierce her heart as well.”
Today I light my morning candles with a prayer, honoring Jesus, the Light which was foretold, birthed in the stable, held to Mary’s breast, blessed by Simeon and Anna, and presented to God in the Temple. Hope. Life. Love.
“The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!— came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.” John 1:1-5
(an edited repost from the archives)