According to Thy Word

According to Thy Word

The Presentation narrative points us backwards and forwards in Scripture. Might this help us ponder its paradoxes?


Reading: Hebrews 2:14-18

The following homily was preached to the student brothers during compline. You can listen here or read below:


Luke’s narrative of the Presentation begins and ends by referring to the Law, first as the ‘law of Moses’, then as the ‘law of the Lord’ (Lk 2:23,39). It is the same Law, the Law of ancient Israel, but the use of these terms is telling. The words ‘law of Moses’ look back to the Old Testament, to the Scriptures that testify on behalf of Christ (Jn 5:39); the ‘law of the Lord’ looks forward, like Simeon, to the consolation of Israel (Lk 2:25), to the fulfilment of the Law in Christ the Lord. There is a trajectory to be traced here, but it is far from straightforward. Several paradoxes present themselves.
First, God enters the house his people have built for him, but his own do not recognise him. As the cloud of the Divine Presence fills the tabernacle of Moses in the desert, so does the Lord enter his Temple in a cloud of unknowing. Yet Simeon worships him as ‘the light of revelation to the nations’ (Lk 2:31). Second, Simeon speaks of peace, but also of the sword piercing Our Lady’s heart (Lk 2:29,35). Third, Christ has come to complete the Law. Surely, then, he is greater than the Law. Yet he obediently submits himself to its commands. What can we make of these contradicting signs?
Let us look forward by looking back: let us consider his wonders according to his word.
The prophecies of David liken Israel to a vine, planted by the Lord’s right hand (Ps 80:14-15). Christ is the true Vine who shows himself, in his own Body, to be the fulfilment of all justice. Today he is a child in the Temple, a seed in the soil of Israel. Today the Church sings, ‘We have received your mercy, O Lord, in the midst of your temple. With justice your right hand is filled’ (Ps 48:9-10). In fulfilling the Law, he restores us to justice, by reconciling us with God. He wins by obedience what we have lost in disobedience. This child will grow up to man’s estate, and in the flower of youth shall bring the Law to fruition on the Tree of Life, that Israel might reap the fruits of his Passion. The Presentation foreshadows this: Luke records that when the Holy Family ‘had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned home‘ (2:39). When the Son of Man offers himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sins on the Cross, he says, ‘It is finished’ (Jn 19:30). He has brought us home, to ‘the inheritance of the saints in light’ (Col 1:12). The sword of his Passion has given us a peace surpassing all understanding.
The Presentation in the Temple reminds us that the whole of Luke’s Gospel is an adventure that begins and ends in the Temple. It begins by looking back: Zechariah ‘was serving as a priest before God’ under the old Law (Lk 1:8-9 cf 1 Chron 24:1-19), and it ends by looking forward: the Apostles were ‘continually in the Temple, blessing God’ (Lk 24:53) as they awaited the coming of the new Law of grace, the Holy Spirit. We live by this new Law, in the Age of the Apostles, and so the Temple we are called to is a Temple transfigured.
This Temple is the Body of Christ, the new Israel. The fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Christ (Col 2:9), who has revealed to us the Father’s love. Outside the city, on the Cross, he shows himself to be the true Priest, Altar and Lamb of Sacrifice (Preface V of Easter). He has pierced the clouds covering our minds, for as his side is pierced, he bestows the Spirit who moves us to say, ‘Truly, this is the Son of God’ (Mk 15:39). He is lifted high above the earth, in the sight of the nations: ‘My eyes have seen your salvation’ (Lk 2:30).
Christ has come to be our salvation, and it is his will to ‘become like his brothers and sisters in every respect’ to save us (Heb 2:17). In the Incarnation, he makes himself what we are by nature, in order to transform us by grace into what he is. At the Presentation, in the earliest days of his flesh, he shows himself subject to the Law, ‘in order to redeem the subjects of the Law, so that we might receive adoption as God’s children’ (Gal 4:5). Unlike the former priests, who were many and sinful, Christ has offered one single sacrifice for sins: there has been ‘a change in the priesthood, so there is necessarily a change in the law as well’ (Heb 7:27,12). The law is no longer a mere letter that cannot save. It is the Spirit of Love, and ‘where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’ (2 Cor 3:17).
Last week, Br John reminded us of Newman’s prayer, ‘God has created me to do him some definite service.’ In the Spirit, we can freely accept this work, and so unite ourselves to the Lord’s Presentation, if we ‘but keep his commandments and serve him in [our] calling’. Let us love God and one another, for these are the chief commandments given to us. Let us bear witness to his salvation, wrought in a manner beyond all measure, not with two turtle-doves, but by the outpouring of his Precious Blood in which we are washed. May he gather us all into the Temple of his Body, the new Jerusalem, so as to present us to his Father, ‘holy and blameless before him in love’ (Eph 1:4).

Br Augustine was born and raised in Kuching, Malaysian Borneo. He came to England to study Law at the University of Oxford, where he was acquainted with and attracted to the Dominican way of life. A desire to proclaim the Gospel and to acquire a wider experience of religious life led him to work with the Salesians among young people in Glasgow before entering the Order. He finds nourishment in the works of St Augustine and the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and is seeking a deeper familiarity with Eastern Christian spirituality and the Metaphysical poets. Among his favourite books are St Augustine's Confessions and Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory. He has an interest in the visual arts, and likes drawing and painting.

Comments (1)

  • Antony TYLER

    Brother Augustine

    I got much from your wonderful homily and liked your sketches- my deceased wife was an artist- lately she mostly did etchings.

    I was in Kuching in 1940/41. My father was working as a geologist for Rajah Viner-Brooke; we left just before the Japanese arrived and I wen to school in Western Australia and in Victoria. I did not return to U.K. until aI went to Cambridge in 1959. My family got to know 4 young Dominicans here in Kemsing when they did the Pilgrimage from Ramsgate to Oxford last year. Antony Tyler.


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