Although so many of the events described in the Gospels took place in Jerusalem, when you go there it is not always so easy to “picture” them. The city has changed so much. Some sites require a great leap of the imagination. Even the Mount of Olives, obviously still there and mostly not built on, is covered with a cemetery and various churches.
So it is particularly moving that excavations on the south side of the Temple Mount have exposed the steps that people climbed up to the great Temple. For this would have been the route, the actual steps that Mary and Joseph took in order to present their baby in the Temple and be purified. Here, amid the crowds of pilgrims and worshippers, one little family slowly made their way up, unnoticed by anyone. …Until, that is, they reached the great courtyards at the top, within the Temple precincts. Here a wise and holy old man caught sight of them and made his way across. He – and the whole of the people of the Old Testament – had been waiting for exactly this moment, for the Messiah to enter his Father’s House. How Simeon’s warm and venerable heart soared as he caught sight of the little bundle in Mary’s arms. How did he know which baby was the One? Some whispering of the Spirit, some quiet idea that grasped his wise inner being. There he is – He has arrived, He is here!
With a great sigh, the sigh of the ages, the sigh of the human race that calls out for our Father, Simeon is ready to fall back into the arms of that Father, for now he can go home. His Father can let him depart in peace, for his eyes have seen the unseeable, the incarnation of eternal love.
And soon Anna comes too. A prophetess, a seer, and of good age also, her heart joins Simeon’s in soaring with a joy that she has never known before. All is complete, all is just beginning. The Old gives way to the New. The Temple now leaves its stones behind, and takes shape in the warmth and intimacy of each human heart.
Today, the steps still rise up to the Temple. But the one presented is now the one who presents. At the end of our journey, we are the one carried in his arms, carried up into our Father’s House. But first, we have to follow his steps… through the Holy Land of our lives.
Fr Matthew