Now I Can Depart in Peace

Text: Luke 2:22-40

RIP. You’ve seen those letters before. If you’ve ever been in a cemetery and seen them on the old gravestones, then you know where this phrase was originally used. Nowadays, we frequently see the letters RIP in obituaries and on Facebook. The three letters are an acronym for Rest in Peace, which is the English translation of the Latin, Requiescat In Pace. Traditionally, it has referred to a couple things. It could either be a prayer to God that the soul of the deceased, having died in faith, would enjoy Christ’s peace in heaven. (This was a prayer for Christians.) It could also be a prayer that God would protect the earthly remains of the Christian as they rest in the grave until the Resurrection. Both are reflected in our committal rite. The pastor prays at one point, “Bless this grave that the body of our brother may sleep here in peace until you awaken him to glory,” and at another, “May God…keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.”

Simeon, in our text, knew that he could die and rest in peace. He was a righteous and devout man, waiting for the arrival of the Messiah to comfort and rescue His people. The Holy Spirit had told Simeon that he would not die before seeing the Christ. So, when the holy parents brought in Jesus to be presented to the Lord, Simeon took Him up in his arms. He blessed God and gave thanks for the salvation that the Lord was already providing. He knew then that he could (and would) depart in peace. In the Lord’s Word and Sacrament we, also, see Christ – and so we, too, can depart in peace.

I.

Simeon is a figure we only talk about a few times a year, though we sing his words fairly often. Simeon is the source of the Nunc Dimittis, which we sing after we have received the Lord’s Supper. Even though we hear about Simeon in the New Testament, he might also be included among the Old Testament saints. He, like John the Baptist, is sort of like a hinge between the Testaments. The Holy Spirit tells us through St. Luke that Simeon was, “righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel.” These words could be used to describe all of the Old Testament saints, as well. Church tradition has long held that Simeon was an old man, but that can’t necessarily be proven from the text itself. What can be, however, is this: “the Holy Spirit was upon [Simeon]. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”

It is written in the book of Exodus that every firstborn male of man and of beast is to be dedicated to the Lord. So, when 40 days had passed, Jesus’ parents brought Him to the temple to be dedicated and to offer a sacrifice for Mary’s purification from childbirth. Earlier that day, the Spirit had told Simeon to go up into the temple. When he saw the parents bringing Jesus in, St. Luke writes, “he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.’” Simeon knew that, seeing Jesus, he had seen the Messiah of God – the bringer of salvation for all mankind – and that he could now die in peace.

II.

Simeon, by God’s grace, beheld and, also, did hold the infant Christ in his own arms. He knew that this little child, born of the Virgin Mary, was Immanuel – God with us. This child, Simeon knew, was the Lord in the flesh to save His people. And, having seen Him, Simeon knew he could depart in peace. Simeon beheld our Lord in the flesh. Though we now live in the time post-ascension, we, too, behold the same Christ. We behold Him now in different means – The Means of Grace – but in ways no less salvific. The ways that we behold Christ now are in His Word and in His Sacrament.

On the mount of His Ascension, Jesus said words which we know well, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He also said earlier in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.” Jesus also said in St. John’s Gospel, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” From these words it is clear that Jesus and His Word go together. When we are gathered to hear His Word, to learn, pray it, and sing it, it is no mere human document but a means by which Christ dwells among us with His truth and grace.

We behold Christ in and through His Word, but there is yet an even more tangible we in which we behold the Lord’s Christ. Our Lutheran Confessions say, “[The Gospel] does not give us counsel and aid against sin in only one way. [For] God is superabundantly generous in His grace.” Included among the ways God’s grace gets to us is the Sacrament of the Altar. In the Lord’s Supper, we receive in our hands and on our tongues the true body and blood of Christ. The same body that Simeon held and praised in the temple some 2,000 years ago, we behold every time we receive the Sacrament. The same body which Simeon beheld distributes to us the salvation accomplished for Simeon and for us on the cross.

III.

The Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon, a righteous and devout man waiting for the consolation of Israel, that he would not die until he had seen the Christ. When the parents brought Jesus into the temple, Simeon knew he could depart in peace. As with Simeon, we live in a fallen and broken creation. The same cares and the same longings Simeon had – for life, joy, and everlasting peace, we also have. But, the same Christ which Simeon beheld in the temple, we also behold in this Lord’s house. Therefore, Simeon’s words, are also our words. Having seen the Lord’s Christ, we, too, can depart in peace.

We know, as Simeon did, that in Christ we have forgiveness and eternal life. We know that in Christ, there is no separation between our God and us – our God is us. He is fully God, yet fully man. He became such so that He might die in our place on the cross and rise from the dead for us. The forgiveness which He won He gives to us daily and richly, free beyond all measure. In Him is light, life, joy, peace, and forgiveness. Simeon beheld Him in the temple, we behold Him in Word and Sacrament, and when the Lord’s appointed time for us to depart comes, these words are ours, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation.” Amen.

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