Doing our duty
Gwyneth Pendril Hamson, the senior member of our congregation, died last week at the age of 97. She was of a such a vintage, that she was always known as Mrs Hamson, rather than by her familiar name of Pen. During the war, she had to escort a group of evacuated children across the Atlantic to Canada, in a convoy protected against enemy attack by a destroyer. On the return journey the captain decided to go it alone, fearing that the presence of a warship was more likely to draw the attention of the enemy. Mrs Hamson’s generation could tell many a tale of heroism and valour; they seem to be of a different age to those of us who have lived through more decadent and comfortable times. She did not regard what she did as anything special, she did what she had to do.
When Jesus was presented in the Temple his parents encountered two veterans of the Temple. Simeon’s age is not stated, but it is taken that he is an old man, as he says, now he can depart in peace, for his eyes have seen the Lord’s salvation in the person of Jesus. Of Anna, Luke says, ‘her days of girlhood were over.’ At 84, I should say they were!
Simeon and Anna realized the importance of waiting on the Lord. They were habitués of the Temple; they were faithful in prayer, and their faithfulness was rewarded. All those years of faithful devotion brought them to an intimate encounter with the infant Christ.
The generation of Mrs Hamson understood the concept of duty, something we do not hear so much about today. We seem to have a stronger sense of our rights and entitlements, rather than our duties.
By attending Mass, we are performing our religious duty. ‘It is our duty and our salvation to give God thanks ’ we hear in the Eucharistic prayer. We are here in obedience to the great commandment to love God above all things, to put God first. Some people think it strange that we offer the Mass every day, with only two or three people here. We would offer it with just one person present, that is the minimum. It is our religious duty to offer prayer and thanksgiving to God. Simeon and Anna would have understood that. As would Mary and Joseph who carried out their religious duty in presenting their firstborn to the Lord.
The serving sense of the word ‘service’ in church has been lost. We talk about 'a church service’ at which we might expect to be uplifted, enlightened or even entertained. Those who attend might not see themselves as obedient servants whom Jesus extolled, those who after attending to their Master do not look for praise but say ‘I was only doing my duty.’
Blessing and reward come from a regular encounter with the Lord. It’s not always the 'wow' encounter of Simeon, but often something rather mundane. For those of you who’ve been married or in a relationship for several years, I don’t suppose your heart skips a beat when you behold the beloved over the toast and marmalade every morning, but it is reassuring to know that they are there.
We have to keep coming to him. We have no Temple, though we have this church, and we do not even need to come here to encounter the Lord. For we meet him in the inner temple, the temple of the Holy Spirit that is our soul. But we need to withdraw into the inner temple of the soul regularly in prayer to meet the Lord there. There are various means of doing that and during Lent, we will be exploring some of them.
Mrs Hamson was a dance teacher for much of her life, and having lived through wartime austerity, she could not get over the enormous size of some of the citizens of King’s Lynn and how they always seemed to be eating in the street, a habit she thought was truly abominable. That is one of the blessings of old age, that you can say what you think and get away with it. We have much to learn from the generation of Mrs Hamson, who lived through times very different to now, and experienced events we have not passed through; if only we would take time to listen and imagine.
St Paul in his First letter to the Corinthians, talks about the outer self wasting away, but the inner self being renewed day by day. ‘For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.’
The glory that Paul looked forward to in heaven, union with Christ, had already been experienced by Simeon in his lifetime, and it can be enjoyed by us too, here and now, if we do our duty, and come to him faithfully.