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Luke 2:25-35

 

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel." And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."(ESV)

Depart in Peace

Wednesday of Easter 3

8 May 2014

We have seen the Lord's salvation. Therefore we can depart in peace. As death approaches, as it is certainly approaching us all, this is a surety which cannot be moved. Cyprian of Carthage ministered to the suffering and dying people of Carthage, putting himself at considerable risk rather than fleeing to safer environs in the countryside as many people did when the plague struck the cities of the ancient Mediterranean world in 251 A.D. It is a dilemma for a preacher that has been played out in successive plagues; could a preacher flee for safety, leaving the suffering behind to fend for themselves? The question arose in 1527 when the bubonic plague struck Wittenberg. Luther stayed behind when the University was moved to rural accommodations, presumably out of reach of the plague. He turned his Wittenberg home into a hospital and several members of his flock died virtually in his arms. No, he would not flee but remained to do his duty in comforting the suffering and dying with the peace that came from Christ's salvation.

 

About this an esteemed correspondent said, "During that plague in Carthage, Cyprian was heroic in many ways, including the use of church wealth to take care of the sick and bury the dead (often a public, communal responsibility). Not to speak about visiting the sick, which in a time of plague is, well, either pastoral or crazy. We shall see what our clergy are willing to do, if it comes, and hopefully not, to that." The clergy above all ought to exhibit the confidence to carry out their spiritual duties while despising the danger, for to serve the brother in the midst of suffering is to serve Christ Himself. Simeon saw the Lord Jesus as an infant and held him in His arms. Then Simeon was ready to repose in His infant arms at death right now. When Simeon said, "now" he meant now. His hope and faith had been fulfilled in the person of this Word made flesh, which he had seen with his own aged eyes. So our clergy should see that they have seen Christ in the suffering of their neighbor and will truly be ready to depart now.

 

We have something to prove and to approve by a calm and quiet acceptance of the threat of death. We are proving the value of this other-worldly faith in Christ who is the living Lord of the church. There is nothing to fear from death, if the Lord is living. We also approve of the suffering shape of the Lord's ministry in the world. This will not be done in some triumphalist way, but in quiet celebration of the power of the Lord's life in the midst of human death. At the beginning of 1527 plague in Wittenberg, Luther suffered depression, but snapped out of it to write a treatise on whether or not we should flee from the plague. Plague will remain a challenge to our faith, and maybe even to our sanity, but that will never change that fact that we have a Lord who will let us depart in peace according to His Word. We have seen His salvation.

 

Cyprian of Carthage

 

 "It is written that the righteous live by faith (Rm 1:17). If you are righteous, and live by faith, if you truly believe in Christ, why, since you are about to be with Christ, and are secure of the Lord's promise, do you not embrace the assurance that you are called to Christ, and rejoice that you are freed from the devil? Certainly Simeon, that righteous man, who was truly righteous, who kept God's commands with a full faith, had been promised from heaven that he should not die before he had seen the Christ. When Christ had come as an infant into the temple with His mother, he acknowledged in spirit that Christ was now born, concerning whom it had before been foretold to him. When he had seen Him, he knew that he should soon die. Therefore, rejoicing concerning his now approaching death, and secure in his immediate summons, he received the Child into his arms, and blessing the Lord, he exclaimed, "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation" (Lk 2:29-30). By this he assuredly proved and bore witness that the servants of God then had peace, then free, then tranquil repose, when, withdrawn from these whirlwinds of the world, we attain the harbor of our home and eternal security, and when having accomplished this death we come to immortality. For that is our peace, our faithful tranquility, and our steadfast, abiding, perpetual security." 

 

Cyprian of Carthage, On Mortality, 3

 
Prayer

Almighty God, You have called Your servants to confess the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, before the rulers of this world and to die for the faith they proclaim. Give us strength always to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

For Christian pastors, that the Lord would grant them the courage of their convictions in times of crisis

 

For Mary Cheng, who is undergoing therapy for breast cancer, that the Lord would grant her healing and full recovery

 

For Fred Webber, who is suffering from cancer, that he would receive strength for every day from the Lord of life

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Resurrection (1515)

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