Thursday 23rd January, 2014
It might seem difficult to believe that just over 40 days ago I was ripping open my Christmas presents, but I had to pay the Visa bill this week, so it must be true. And now at Candlemass we remember the day, 40 days after Jesus’ birth, when Mary and Joseph, his parents, like all God fearing Jews of their time, presented their first born in the temple and brought along the appointed sacrifice, as laid down in the Book of Malachi. The parents of Jesus were thrilled with the gift of their child and wanted to give thanks. And on this day Simeon first said the words of what we call the Nunc Dimittis – “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace”, which the Choir sings, as the children process into the Cathedral carrying their candles. Candlemass is an obvious festival of light. Simeon, a symbol of old Israel patiently and prayerfully waiting for the Lord, recognises the Christ Child as the head of the new Israel, he who is destined to be a light to the gentiles, a light to the nations. Simeon saw in the powerless and helpless child the salvation of Israel. I suppose the best way to see Candlemass is as a kind of postscript or epilogue to the Christmas story; it underlines in a dramatic way that Christ the light has come into our world. But also with Candlemass we well and truly say farewell to Bethlehem and journey on.
We do indeed say farewell at Candlemass. Heartbreakingly we said an untimely final farewell at Christmas to one of our apprentice stonemasons – Louis Kefferty – killed in a car crash. My thoughts about Louis are reinforced by the last words we shared and the actions he selflessly took. The apprentices’ Christmas party was getting into full swing, and I had just discovered that I had a flat tyre and needed some help to change the wheel because the wheel nuts were incredibly tight. To say that Louis enthusiastically volunteered to help might be a bit of an exaggeration, but help he did. Like the Good Samaritan, he quietly got the job done without any fuss. The last time I saw him he was helping someone in need. Hundreds of young and not so young gathered in his home town of Bathgate for his funeral. In December Louis had been working on one of the coping stones which will be on Palmerston Place: that stone will have carved on it some words of tribute as a memorial to a young man in whose short life he had given much and brought laughter and light and fun. RIP.
Christmas itself was a wonderful celebration of the Word made Flesh. From PLV Christmas Party to Choir Carol services with huge attendances; from noise of a crib service and children dressing up as sheep and oxen to the stillness of words and music on 23 December; from the beauty of the Cathedral adorned with flowers and greenery to the “joys” of printing and collating literally tens of thousands of bits of paper for service sheets; from sacristans to servers and secretaries; vergers and stewards – all enabled us to celebrate the Word made Flesh. Finally we know that the music the Cathedral choir gives us is simply sublime and not only at Christmas: it is good to note that what we know day in day out has been recognised in the excellent reviews of the Choir’s latest CD in The Times and in The Observer.
Lent now beckons.