A wonderful English idiom for “the last bit”, we (happily, unless you are winter lover) reach the dog days of January, knowing that whilst February’s arrival does not necessarily auger any improvement in the weather, nevertheless the days lengthen, and the month ahead is often strangely short, hastened by the school half term and the opportunity presented by a few days off.
The seasons of the church year also change with the month, the weeks of Epiphany coming to an end on the 2nd of February with the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, otherwise known as Candlemas. St Luke describes how Mary and Joseph take their infant son to the Jerusalem Temple. Possibly this was for his circumcision, customary for Jewish males after eight days. Possibly this was for Mary’s purification, required for women forty days after childbirth. Possibly this was a special service just for “firstborn boys”, after the traditions of Leviticus. Whatever the occasion was in fact, Luke is keen to tell us of the ecstatic welcome and reception that the young Jesus receives from two venerable denizens of the Temple precincts, whose words clearly touch Mary’s soul, so much that she remembers these more than any other. Simeon, and Anna, both very old, both single, both at the tail end of their days, nevertheless see in the young child God’s promises to his people fulfilled – salvation to Israel, and a light for the whole world – and this seeing brings joy, not only to their words, but also to Mary’s heart. This child of yours really is everything the angel said.
Geoffrey Burgon was a contemporary composer, who died in 2010. Among his greatest legacies will be this choral version of Simeon’s words, which we know as the Nunc Dimittis. As fine a tail end as there ever was.
Worship Services for Sunday 4th February
9.30am Family Service at St John’s, Stoke Row with Revd Romey Poston
11am Morning Prayer at St Peter and Paul, Checkendon with Revd James Leach
Midweek zoom service: Wednesday Evensong at 5.00pm 410 935 129
Three cheers for the first snowdrops of the spring, pipping February by a few days, spotted in lanes and hedgerows around Hook End, closely followed by those in Checkendon churchyard, along the verge of the path. Catkins are also unfurled on Whitehall Lane, and farmers are busy with fencing ahead of the arrival of the lambs, or other stock. The rhubarb is beginning to awaken, precipitating a rush to tidy and weed the clumps, ahead of the surge of growth presaged by the innocent looking shoots. The apple trees look on, wondering when their turn for some attention will arrive. “Patience,” the gardener says. “All in good time.” Meanwhile the birds are still hungry, and tits of all kinds crowd around the feeders, shooting off in a great flurry when the woodpecker swoops in straight flight for a late breakfast of peanuts. Pretty little long tailed tits watch him cautiously from the weigela bush. Their tails are longer than their body, which gives their flight an inherent instability, meaning straight lines are impossible for them and they make progress in a series of shallow dips, from one inflection point to the next. To stop other birds laughing at this apparent disability they crowd together in gangs, and move very quickly, never staying in one place for very long. Their plumage is on first sight a rather drab mix of grey and black, but closer study reveals them to be very smartly dressed, with elegant attention to detail.
with every blessing for a peaceful February