People at the Presentation of Christ: Anna

This devotional on Anna was written by the Rev Grant Crowe, Amersfoort Chaplain

Painting by Ambrogio Lorenzetti – The Presentation in the Temple.Anna is the character on the far right of the painting. (c14th century)

Epiphany comes to an end with the Presentation of Christ in the temple, (Febuary 2nd). The Gospel reading, for that festival, is from Luke 2:22-40, and usually we think of or focus upon the elderly Simeon holding the infant Jesus, 40 days old, expressing the beautiful words, we now call the Nunc Dimittis – as his parents look on.

But there is also the aged prophetess Anna. I want to invite us to consider her and be inspired by her, as Epiphany closes, and Lent approaches (March 1st is Ash Wednesday this year).

Anna  – the Greek version of the Hebrew name Hannah – follows in the line of faithful women in these first two chapters of our gospels. Elisabeth – John the Baptist’s mother, Mary – mother of Jesus – and now Anna. And Anna is a lady of great age. The ESV bible translation reads that she was married for seven years and then ‘a widow until eighty-four’. That is one way to translate the Greek. But the more natural way to take the syntax, a number of scholars suggest, is that the eighty-four is the length of her widowhood. So assuming that she was married as a teenager, she would have been 105 when she met Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus.

John Calvin notes how St Luke draws attention to her age and her piety. It provokes the question in me (in us) – ‘Which older people currently in my life, or in the past have I known, for whom I remember their faith? Which older people, who in their late years, are inspiring to me in my walk of following Christ?’ We may remember a grandparent, a mother-in-law, a church member, someone, whom inspires us to hope that we would be as spiritually vibrant as they are /were when we come to their years. I remember an interview with Brother Andrew – now in his late 80s – Brother Andrew a man who God has used in many ways and who helped establish Open Doors. I see him, how he radiates a love for God, a hunger for God, a passion for God. I see him and I hope and pray I can be as vibrant as he is in my late 80s. Another personal inspiring example would be the example of my mother-in-law, who passed away in her late 80’s this year. To be someone as St Paul says in 2 Timothy – “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7). The impression in Paul is not of someone struggling to the end of the race – rather someone running with vibrance and brightness. Anna, whether she is 84 or 104, in her later years, still shines brightly and vibrantly in her faith, running the race strongly to the end. As we consider these older witnesses we have seen or who are around us, as we are inspired, shaped, we take some moments in prayer to give thanks for them…

Anna’s faith. Her piety of never leaving the temple – suggesting she was there beyond the regular daily offerings. Her worship consisting of regular fastings and prayers. Day and Night. Her faith burns bright in a person with a dark past. As All Saints, we have been preaching focusing primarily upon the Isaiah passages set for this month. And the theme of light in the darkness has been a prominent theme. Isaiah 42, as God speaks to the Servant, “I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Isaiah 49: “I will make you a light to the nations.” And the reading from Isaiah 9: “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness on them has light shone.” She has been in darkness – married for 7 years and then widowed. She lost her husband in her early 20s. While couples enjoyed long marriages, golden anniversaries, children, grandchildren, she did not. A lady who experienced darkness at a young age. And yet, as St Luke describes, her faith is vibrant. This does not say that there were not many years of hurt and pain – there could well have been. There may have been anger at God or others, as is possible in grief (as we also see expressed in the psalms). But she has come to a place, I’d suggest of healing and peace with her loss.

Grief can bring much darkness into life. For some people, church becomes a place to return to, if they have drifted away from church, or perhaps they went when they were a child. For others, death can raise significant questions, doubts in a believer’s life. For some, what they seek is believers to sit alongside them as they wrestle and struggle and doubt – a touch, a presence, instead of words. For others, ‘they grieve, but not as people without hope’, as Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians, they fully grieve, alive to the pain of loss, while fully held by / or holding onto the hope in Christ.

Anna has come through the darkness and perhaps became a light for others in darkness. A person who helped those in darkness, a person who dispelled darkness… perhaps she was someone already being a light in the world (Matthew 5) as she met THE light of the world, for the first time, in the temple that day.

Epiphany ends with the Presentation of Christ in the temple. This festival also commemorates the purification of Mary. But in that temple, Luke draws our attention also to another woman, to the example of Anna, pointing us to her vibrant faith, after her many years, despite her times of personal darkness.