The Presentation: “Long for the Lord’s coming” : Lessons from Ludolph

The Presentation: “Long for the Lord’s coming” : Lessons from Ludolph January 30, 2023

Simeon (Lk 2.25-35) is one of my favorite saints. I love the way he emulates life in the Spirit. Whatever Paul teaches us (Rom 8; Gal 5-6) about the Spirit, we see beautifully depicted in this amazing old man. I love that he is old, ready and willing to let go of life, weary of waiting. I love that he has been waiting in the wings of life his whole life. Whatever else he did, it all fades to this moment. Amidst the corruption and turmoil and violence of his day, there he was, a quiet but steady witness to the unseen.

This painting may be the last Rembrandt ever did. It was found after his death, and most believe that the woman in the background was added after his death. Essentially, it’s just Simeon and Jesus. It’s the second painting Rembrandt did of the Presentation. The first was much earlier in his career. Many have pointed out the stark differences between them. Rembrandt, like Simeon himself, became increasingly distilled spiritually. The first painting is full of characters, context, light, and detail. Here Rembrandt visually meditates on the simple scene between the old man and the infant: the former worshiping God as he recognizes God’s answer to many prayers. This two-person exchange, captured in this mutual gazing, is the Spirit made visible. It is, perhaps, Rembrandt himself summing up his life.

The Holy Spirit loved Simeon. The Holy Spirit rested on him. Simeon’s righteousness and devotion—his pious and prayerful life—was evidenced in his expectations: the consolation of Israel. He did not look around and say to himself in a spirit of bitterness, “God, your Temple, your people, your word, well, it’s all falling apart. The Pharisees are crazy-making; the Sadduccees have sold out; and the Romans are killing our way of life. I’ve lost hope in what you’re doing.” Instead, by living in expectation, he was virtually saying, “Whatever things look like, I know you and your power and your purpose are at work, and you will bring your plans to fulfillment.”

The Holy Spirit spoke to him, opened his eyes, assured his heart: you will not die before you see. Did Simeon expect to see a Messiah sweeping into Jerusalem with the armies of God behind him? Maybe. But he was so attentive to seeing, so focused on God’s promises, that he could recognize the most unlikely of revelations: a baby born into poverty.

The Holy Spirit moved him. Simeon was that sensitive to the Spirit that he obeyed its gentle nudges. Isn’t this what Paul means by being led by the Spirit?

So, let’s be more like Simeon. Ludolph tells us how:

“If you wish to hold and embrace Jesus in your arms, and be dismissed in peace, you must strive in every work to be led by the Spirit: come to Jerusalem, pondering heavenly things; enter the temple, imitating the example of those in whom God dwells, sighing and asking only that you might dwell for ever in the house of the Lord; long for the Lord’s coming. Then you will be worthy to take the Word of God himself into your arms and be embraced by faith, hope, and charity. You will be dismissed, but you will not see eternal death, for you have seen the Lord.”

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