sin offering

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord – 4th Sunday in Ord. Time Yr. A

Two Turtle Doves or Two Young Pigeons

At the Presentation of a child in the Temple a sacrifice was required of the parents – usually an animal sacrifice – lamb, or goat.  But if the family could not afford such an animal, then they could offer two turtle doves or two young pigeons.  One of the two was killed and the blood sprinkled on the altar and at the foot of the altar of sacrifice, as expiation for sin, and the other bird was burned as a burnt offering when the parents presented their child to the Lord.  If the family was poorer yet, they could offer a tenth of an ephah of wheat flour as an offering for sin committed.  This is very significant, as we shall see.

This feast celebrates the Lord coming into the Temple – the king of Glory has entered his Temple.
The Presentation in the Temple was a celebration of purification for the mother and ceremony of redemption for the child being presented to the Lord at forty days of age.  Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph made an offering of two turtle doves.  We know from the Book of Leviticus, chapter 7, that this was the offering of persons who could not afford an animal of sacrifice. Neither Jesus nor his mother has committed any sin.  Later, at the beginning of his public ministry, we find Jesus again participating in a ceremony of repentance for sin – his baptism.  John tells Jesus that it is not right that he, John should be baptizing Jesus.  Jesus says that John should proceed with the baptism.  John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.  Jesus identifies with us in the totality of our human condition.  He takes our sins upon himself from the moment his life begins.  The spilling of the blood of one dove on, and beneath, the altar of sacrifice was for repentance.  If one was poorer yet, then the offering was wheat flour that the priest would burn on the altar as a sacrifice of sin.  At the end of his life, Jesus who declared himself as having nowhere to lay his head, very poor indeed, took bread – wheat flour – and offered it as his Body.  A day later this body would spill its blood over, and beneath, the altar of sacrifice, the Cross, as an offering for our sins, that he took upon himself.

St. John, in his Prologue tells us that the Light of the World has come into the world that has its being through him, and the world does not recognize him. (Jn 1:9,10) At the Presentation of the Lord, Jesus, the light of the world has come into his Temple.  Two elderly people of faith, Anna and Simeon, recognize and proclaim him, in joyful awareness of the fulfillment of their faith.  In this joy there is a profound juxtaposition that is so often experienced in the journey of faith.  Simeon and Anna are elated. Simeon in his elation is aware of the pain, upheaval and sorrow, that is an integral part of this Light now present in the Temple.  He is aware that good and evil are on a collision path bringing much sorrow to those who love Jesus – beginning with his mother.  “A sword will pierce your own soul too.” The work of the refiners fire, and fuller’s soap has begun. (Mal.3:2) This joy and pain juxtaposed in lived faith is a sharing in the redemptive action of faith.

There is no room for gush and mush in the story of Christmas which comes to a conclusion today at the end of 40 days!  We only have to call to mind the significance of 40.  The Jews were forty years in the desert in a constant struggle between sin and their covenant of love with the Lord.  Jesus spent 40 days in the desert growing in the awareness of his call to take our sins upon himself, redeeming us from our slavery to sin.  Forty comes to symbolize ‘desert’, a place of struggle with sin, a place that is to bring about a ‘metanoia’, a change of heart.  John comes out of the desert proclaiming this.  So we have in this Presentation an encapsulation of the Old Covenant in its lived struggled with sin, reparation, sacrifice for sin, faithfulness and human weakness within this faithfulness, that leads to sin and blindness. Redemption is at hand – raised up in the hands of Simeon.

This feast of the Presentation in the Temple is then, also a foreshadowing of the Easter Triduum, when the sword would pierce the heart of Mary as Simeon foretold at the time of the Presentation.  Jesus from his infancy took our sins upon himself becoming both the priest and the victim.  Already his ultimate mission was being defined.  As the Reading today from Hebrews says, ”He has come to help the children of Abraham” (Heb 2:16), our father in faith.  At Jesus’ death the veil of the Temple was torn in two – the cross has become the altar of sacrifice for sin – and we all consume that sacrifice for sin – not the High Priest whose roll it was to consume the sin offering, but each and every one of us consume the sacrifice for sin!  And, by so doing are made holy, just as it says in Leviticus 6:20, that anyone who touches the meat of sacrifice “will become holy”.  All of this is contained in embryo, so to speak, at the Presentation in the Temple.  This is what Simeon declared when he said, “Now Lord, you may let your servant go in peace, for my eyes have seen the salvation you have prepared in the sight of all peoples! ….” (Lk.2:29-32)

To think that birds that we fly – pigeons or turtle doves  – as a sign of peace could be the link to such everlasting peace!

What a marvel our faith is, from creation to eternity – no part of it stands alone – but all is one in the Lord!