Where people walk in darkness

Christine Seth-Smith, an Anna Chaplain in the diocese of Rochester, offers some reflections based on the Candlemas sermon she will be delivering today…

31 January 2021

‘A light for revelation to the Gentiles’

Exactly a year ago, I was invited to attend a special service at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Anna Chaplaincy. BRF’s Anna Chaplaincy ministry offers emotional and spiritual support to people in later life. Founded and led by Debbie Thrower, Anna Chaplaincy is a growing ecumenical movement that aims to provide support for older men and women (and their carers), who may have ‘strong, little or no faith’.

Anna Chaplaincy is named after the widow Anna, who, together with Simeon, appears in the passage from Luke 2:22–40 on which Candlemas is based.

Candlemas celebrates the presentation of Jesus in the temple. He was brought there by Mary and Joseph, acknowledging that he belonged to God, who alone has the power to give life. Simeon, in his wisdom, recognised Jesus as the Messiah who would be the light of the whole world, when he said:

For my eyes have seen your salvation… a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.

Luke 2:31–32

In other words, for everyone.

‘The light is stronger than the darkness.’

At the service in Oxford, we sang the hymn, ‘In a world where people walk in darkness‘, which I had never heard before. It seems to have become the Anna Chaplaincy hymn! The words really spoke to me, and, sung by a cathedral choir, the music is glorious.

Our world does seem dark in so many ways just now. For older people it can seem even more so if they feel cut off from society, unable to get out at all and experience loneliness. Many do not have the benefits of modern technology, such as smart phones and computers, and therefore cannot access the live-streaming events or video calls that have become very popular – and indeed a lifeline for many of us – in the last year.

The hymn reminds us very powerfully that ‘the light is stronger than the darkness’ and when a candle is lit, it reminds us to ‘turn our faces to the light’. We are given hope.

‘Turn our faces to the light’

We all need hope, and it is almost impossible to live without it. Our hope is in Jesus, as we ‘bear the cross of Christ with gladness’ and look forward to the resurrection.

Simeon and Anna both had a very close relationship with God and were led by the Holy Spirit. The passage from Luke is beautiful. Imagine the joy these two elderly people must have felt when they beheld the infant Jesus, now about a month old. Their whole lives had been leading towards this moment – Simeon felt a total sense of peace. They were among the earliest people to bear witness to Jesus.

As we get older, our bodies are less able than they were, and they sometimes let us down. Our minds may not be as sharp as they used to be, and we may feel insecure. But as we ‘turn our faces to the light’, our spirits can soar. We can feel close to God and he will draw near to us.

‘Lived long and experienced much’

Older people often have a lot to offer the younger generations. Cast your minds back to last April when we were all captivated by the determination, resilience and charm of [the late] Captain Tom Moore when he raised millions of pounds for the NHS, as he neared his 100th birthday.

We may not all be like Sir Tom, or the Queen, who is now in her mid-90s, or even the American president, who is heading towards 80, but in our own small way, we can be inspired to do what we can.

I love the sense of humour of many older people – the twinkle in their eyes, their stories, their wisdom, the comfort of their presence and sometimes a listening ear. It is so often a privilege to be in their company.

For nearly a year, many of us have been checking on our elderly neighbours up and down the road, giving them a ring, popping a card through the door so they know that someone is thinking of them, or having safely distanced chats on their doorsteps and through their windows. Anna Chaplains have been busier than ever, finding new and creative ways to help meet the needs of those they care for, but it will be important for all of us to continue offering such support and friendship, even as more and more people are vaccinated.

I am going to close with the Anna Chaplaincy prayer:

Faithful God, you have promised in Christ to be with us to the end of time.
Come close to those who have lived long and experienced much.
Help them to continue to be faithful and, within the all-age kingdom of God to find ways to go on giving and receiving your grace, day by day.
For your glory and your kingdom.

Quotes from the hymn ‘In a world where people walk in darkness’. Words by Robert Willis (b. 1947), music by Richard Shepherd (b. 1949). From Common Praise (Hymns Ancient and Modern), p. 476.

Christine is a retired primary school teacher and a licensed lay minister, as well as an Anna Chaplain. She is also involved in prayer ministry and heads up her local Eco Church initiative. For a year before Covid-19 struck, her church held a well-attended dementia-friendly worship service once a month.

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