Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord,
according to thy word in peace;
Because my eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples:
A light to the revelation of the Gentiles,
and the glory of thy people Israel.
— Luke 2:29-32 —
Who is this strange man, Simeon, who makes one short appearance in the Gospel story recorded by Luke? Why does he offer a message that is at once an acceptance of his own finite existence and at the same time filled with the joyful expectation of glory?
Simeon shows an amazing ability to “see into” the current scene, and a courage to announce its deeper meaning. He is a prophet in the best Old Testament tradition, calling those who will hear to see far, to see under, to see grace and light and glory shaping the generations. His seeing is that of the wise ones who stand back and look wide. It’s the wisdom echoed centuries later in the hymn, “Mine eyes have seen the glory …” (Julia Ward Howe)
Perhaps this canticle wants us to consider Simeon moments in our own lives, those opportunities for utter clarity about why we are here and what our purpose is as humans in creation. These personal moments might come as we see our children’s children doing well in the world. Communally, they might come when a longed-for understanding is revealed among us, or when we can see that a fledgling ministry will survive us and be carried on by others.
In that same moment, we recognize that we have been blessed to see the glory breaking through, even just a bit. There is a sense of peace, for Simeon and for us, as we recognize that it’s okay to let go and move on, to release our expectations and our impatient waiting and wondering. We’ve seen enough to know grace will prevail and all will be well.
You don’t have to be an elder to speak this prayer; it can be offered by a person of any age, a person who trusts enough to love radically, serve compassionately and move on when the time comes. And all of this is practice for the great dismissal at the end of our lives, when—who knows?—Simeon himself may come to greet us and say of our lifetime, “My eyes have seen …”