The story of Simeon has given the church one of its oldest hymns, called the “Nunc Dimittis”, after the first two Latin words of the song: “Now dismiss…” There have been many musical versions of Simeon’s song, but today’s poem takes as its inspiration a modern setting by the living Swiss composer Carl Rütti. Rütti’s setting, full of dissonance and peace at the same time, perfectly captures the tension of the story, a moment of jubilation, fulfilment of age-old longing and pure relief and release. The same mood is captured for me in the painting by Rembrandt, who tackled the story of Simeon at the start and end of his career. This is the second of his versions, left unfinished at his death. Is it fitting that he never finished it? Rembrandt caught many of the most poignant moments of Scripture in a manner both raw and sublime. I personally love the second version much more than the first, though the latter is polished where the former is rough. Yet the roughness fits the theme perfectly: Simeon’s praying hands stretched out with the infant Jesus balanced over them, his eyes barely open, his mouth open just enough to say this final prayer. I’ve tried to capture some of this in today’s poem.
After the silence, a cascade
of wonder, of sound, of light.
Before the darkness, a sight
of promise, of presence, of peace.
And in this aching and drooping of arms,
an answer, a dimming, an eternal day.
Now dismiss. I hold the day;
I hold the way that holds me into night.
…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Did He view the Cross from birth? Did crossbeams
In the stable tell Him where He’d go?
Did He see the Cross in treetops’ glow
As He flew to earth from Heaven’s beams?
Perhaps as Joseph carved at night, His dreams
Spoke to Him of timber, nails, a show
Of Roman triumph in their streets. He’d know
From birth, for He knows all. Yet did it seem
As though His life was bent to Cross? A sword
Would pierce His mother’s soul, so she was told
By Simeon, who declared that some would fall;
And as He learned to walk, to talk, to be
As humans are on earth, He knew from old
That cursed would be the man hung on a tree.
Well: perhaps, you went to church the day before,
Heard Jesus hailed as promise kept, as wise
Old Simeon and Anna wept and saw
The saving one, a babe before their eyes.
Perhaps you picked some turkey from your teeth
And thought of all the washing to be done,
The relatives all gone, so now relief
From cooking up a storm for everyone.
Perhaps the Christmas tree is drooping now;
Perhaps the pool gives comfort in this heat.
Perhaps there’s too much light going around
And, victory done, you fancy quiet defeat.
Keep watch: He grew and walked and made His way
For summer sinners who always doze astray.