Famous Last Words

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2 February 2018

History is full of famous last words. Some are (intentionally or otherwise) humorous “I told you I was sick!” (Spike Milligan); “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance..” (General Sedgewick) “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is ready for the ordeal of meeting me is another thing” – a typically immodest Winston Churchill.

Others are poignant and hope-filled: “Take care of Lilibet [the Queen] for me” by King George VI. “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees” attributed to Stonewall Jackson or “Mine eyes have seen the Glory of the Coming of the Lord” in Martin Luther King’s great speech the night before his murder.

There are even some that reveal the hopelessness of unbelief “No God above, no hell below. So I jump!” by an unnamed 19th Century atheist or Sigmund Freud’s “Now it is nothing but torture and makes no sense anymore.” Our forebears believed that faced with the imminence of death each person would surely disdain lying and so deathbed confessions are still an exception to the law of Hearsay.

However, of all the last words by the famous, a single sentence by an otherwise anonymous old man is undoubtedly the most quoted:

At last all-powerful Master,
You give leave to Your servant to go in peace,
According to your promise;
For my eyes have seen your salvation
which You have prepared for all nations;
a light to enlighten the Gentiles
and give Glory to Your people Israel.

These are the words of Simeon in today’s Gospel and every night, uncounted millions of people, religious and lay alike say these words at the close of the Church’s Night Prayer.

We recall humble Joseph and Mary, faithfully discharging the requirements of the law, probably possessing only a limited understanding of their mission but faithful. With them, Simeon and Anna who had watched and prayed for uncounted years trusting for the coming of Messiah.

We do not know when our Lord shall return, but if it is delayed until far into the future, then the simple words of Simeon will be recalled and sung when even the mighty Churchill, the heroic Martin Luther King, and the noble King George are lost to memory.

Simeon and Anna did the One Thing – they recognised the Messiah when He passed them by. May we too be watchful to see Him when He passes us by today. And may we, with them, share His life in eternity.

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