Through long years of watchful waiting
Source: Singing the Faith: 232
Words: Thomas G. Wilkinson
Correction to words: Change author name to read “Thomas G. Wilkinson (b. 1945)”
This is one of two hymns in Singing the Faith that explore in detail the presentation of Jesus at the temple, and the encounter of the ‘holy family’ with the old man Simeon (Luke 2: 22-40). See also Andrew Pratt’s Mary and Joseph came to the Temple (StF 229) – a more straightforward rendition of the biblical narrative but one with elements not included by Thomas G. Wilkinson.
Thomas leads us carefully from that first, critical recognition of God’s presence in the baby Jesus to the inevitable, loving but painful self-giving of Christ’s crucifixion. He uses Simeon’s warning to Mary (‘and a sword will pierce your own soul too’) to bind these two events together: in verse 2, ‘Mary’s heart is crucified’; in verse 4 she recollects Simeon’s words ‘and her love dissolved in tears’; and, finally, ‘In Christ’s death outside the city / God’s own heart is pierced with pain’ (v.5). In this way, Thomas addresses the idea that it is God who, out of love for us and for creation, endures the pain of crucifixion alongside and through Jesus.
At the same time as making a profound theological point, Thomas’s words draw out one deeply personal aspect of the story as he describes Mary’s response to the maturing and progress of her son. In verses 3 and 4, we see her watching Jesus as if from a slight distance; we sense her panic when she loses him in the crowds travelling to and from the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2: 41-52); and we share her grief as “the son she mothered / for the whole world’s need was spent” (v.3).
See also: Simeon’s prayer, known as the Nunc Dimittis: Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace (StF 794).