The Dean’s Reflection column with John Dobson

Candlemas will take place at Ripon Cathedral on Friday 2 February at 7.30pm.
Candlemas will take place at Ripon Cathedral on Friday 2 February at 7.30pm.

Give peace a chance – This year, in which we will mark the centenary of the end of the First World War, is now well under way. Christmas, when we celebrated the birth of the Prince of Peace, seems a distant memory. It’s interesting that the season of Christmas lasts only twelve days, that of Epiphany (when we remember the wise men visiting Jesus) lasts from 6 January until 2 February.

I suppose the length of the Epiphany season is reasonable when we consider how far those gents travelled, ‘from Eastern lands afar’! It is important to have time to reflect on the message of Epiphany, that Jesus was revealed to be the Saviour of the whole world. That seems to be an easy message to hear, until we realise that ‘the whole world’ includes those people and peoples whom we find difficult.

Yes, we celebrated the birth of the Prince of Peace at Christmas, but now we begin to realise that his peace requires us respecting all people as of equal and infinite value and worth. This includes past enemies, and present ones; the people we enjoy spending time with and those we struggle to like; the neighbours, and those living in different parts of the world – even different parts of the district! The affirming thing is that our attitude to others can make a difference – it can help to give peace a chance, as John Lennon might have said. The challenge is accepting that we might be the ones who need to change. Epiphany and preparations to mark the centenary of 11 November 1918 both invite us to accept the challenge.

Light for everyone

One of the great, spectacular services in the Cathedral each year is that on Candlemas, 2 February at 7.30pm. The theme is light – Christ being the light of the world. And to show that we have got the message, we light thousands of candles in a way that is seldom seen anywhere.

The whole thing about Candlemas, or the Presentation of Christ in the Temple as it is also called, is that it recalls the time when Mary and Joseph took their 40-day old son to the Jerusalem temple to present the gift that Jewish laws required.

When they arrived, an old man called Simeon met them. He had been waiting for years for the fulfilment of the promise to him, that he would see the Lord’s Messiah (the Christ) before he died.

Simeon recognised Jesus and prayed to God, famously, saying that he could depart in peace because he had seen God’s salvation which had been prepared for all people – a light for revelation to the Gentiles and to be the glory of Israel. Simeon could depart in peace, but the challenge to the Jews was to accept that God’s special gift to them was indeed for everyone.

Overcoming divisions a century after 1918

Celebrating Candlemas brings people together, many people of different ages and backgrounds from different communities and areas.

The hope must surely be that what happens in the Cathedral and in churches all around the world, inspires a difference in those who participate, the wider community and the world. Two thousand years after Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth, and a century on from the armistice of 1918, we are still a long way from enjoying universal peace. The cynics might even scoff at any suggestion that we can make a positive difference. All the more reason, then, that we should do our bit to overcome divisions and promote peace.