The Meeting of Time and Eternity

Forty days ago, Christ is born! So now it is time for him and his mother to go to Jerusalem — to the temple — according to the law of Moses (Luke 2:22). The book of Leviticus states that when the forty days of purification are complete after the birth of a son, the mother is to bring a yearling lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering (Leviticus 12:2-6). Mary doesn’t do this, but rather brings a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons (Luke 2:24) — because Leviticus goes on to state that if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons – one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering (Leviticus 12:8). The Lord’s Christ and his mother come to the temple in Jerusalem in some measure of poverty — unable to afford a lamb — but also with an unseen poverty greater than this poverty which would have been apparent to all. For here is the giver of the law subjecting himself to the law — “him who as God is the legislator, [is seen now] as subject to his own decrees.”[ii]  Here is God coming now as a baby boy. Here is an incomprehensible self-emptying – a giving up of everything for us – the creator become a creature – the divine made human – the infinite made finite – the eternal made temporal. Such impoverishment!

We call this feast, the Meeting. Here eternity is meeting time. Here an old man is meeting a baby boy. Simeon is meeting Jesus.

Simeon has been waiting a long time to meet the Lord’s Christ at this intersection of time and eternity in the temple in Jerusalem – in the house of the Lord. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not see death before he sees the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:26).

Listen to some of what he says when finally lays his eyes on Christ. We hear these words so often – at every vespers and at other services – that maybe sometimes we forget to listen to them as they wash over us day after passing day, night after passing night. Simeon says that his eyes have seen the Lord’s salvation, so now he is ready to depart in peace (Luke 2:29-30).

 

How does the Lord Jesus Christ save us? How can Simeon say he has seen our salvation? As if it is already accomplished here in this baby boy – this baby who has not yet spoken a word, though he is already and from eternity the word of God. Yet, he has not yet preached a single word of the Gospel to the world. He has not yet died for us so that he may rise for us and by his death trample death. Yet here is Simeon saying he has seen the salvation prepared by the Lord before the face of all people (Luke 2:30-31). How can this be?

For one thing, Simeon is a prophet of the Lord and he speaks of what is coming as well as of what is present before him and what has been (eg. Luke 2:34-35). Nonetheless, his eyes have already seen this salvation. And the Incarnation of God in Christ Jesus even as a baby can truly be understood and expressed as already accomplishing our salvation by uniting the divinity with our humanity. But does this mean that what was to follow – his life, his preaching, his teachings, his healings, his transfiguration, his death, his resurrection, his ascension – are all superfluous addenda to our salvation already accomplished in this baby boy? No! This is not what it means.

Rather, this reveals to us something of the prophetic mind – the mind we ought to yearn to acquire for ourselves. We ought to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that [we] may prophesy” (1 Cor14:1). And we must seek to acquire the mind of Christ (cf. Phil 2:5). When a prophet speaks, the Lord speaks through him. When a prophet thinks, the Lord also thinks in him. When a prophet sees, he sees with the eyes of the Lord. This is the way to be – more and more configured to the Lord – more and more like him in every way, each and every day. Then we can begin to see things as he sees them.

And the Lord’s understanding is not confined by our chronology. This is a point we often forget, being so limited in our understanding, but which is greatly helpful to remember as often as possible: God is not confined by our chronology.

In the Divine Liturgy, after the epiklesis, we offer the spiritual sacrifice for the Theotokos and all the saints. Now, what need have they of our prayers? – You may well ask. Their salvation is accomplished. We have need of their prayers more than they do of ours, it seems to us. While from a chronological perspective, this question makes sense, it forgets what the Divine Liturgy is and it forgets that we are in the house of the Lord who is not confined by our chronology.

In the house of the Lord, Simeon looks upon the baby Jesus and sees our salvation already accomplished. In this house of the Lord here today, if we look with prophetic eyes, we will see our salvation already accomplished.

Does this mean our salvation does not require us to work it out in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12)? Or that we don’t need what remains of our lives, filled – as they doubtless will be – with many sufferings and blessings? Or that we need not die? Or that the Lord need not come again in glory? Or that we need not rise again to live eternally in Christ? No! That’s not what it means. But at every Divine Liturgy we remember the second coming in glory, in the same breath as we remember the cross the tomb the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven and the sitting at the right hand. We remember these things as already accomplished – for our Lord is not confined by our chronology and today on this Feast of Meeting, our time meets with eternity.

[i] Inspired by Nicole M. Roccas, “Meeting Vulnerability in the Presentation of Our Lord,” (https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/timeeternal/meeting-vulnerability-presentation-lord/).

[ii] Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, Homily 3.

image: See page for author [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Fr. John R.P. Russell

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Fr. John R.P. Russell is a husband, a father of four, a priest for the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Eparchy of Parma, and a painter particularly influenced by abstract expressionism and iconography. He has an M.Div. from the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Ss. Cyril and Methodius and a B.A. in art with a minor in religion from Wabash College. He blogs here: http://holydormition.blogspot.com/. Some of his paintings can be seen here: https://paintingprosopa.blogspot.com/

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