Sunday, February 2, 2020
The details of the apocrypha. . .
The Presentation of Mary at the Temple, not the one known as Candlemas, is one of those details. In that story, the child Mary is presented by her parents (another detail is that here her father was named a Levitical priest). It was, as it were, the return of the lost Ark to the Temple. Israel suffered no devastation greater than the capture and loss of the Ark of the Covenant to their enemies. In one, by the Philistines, the consequences were like a Steven Spielburg movie script. Plagues began to afflict the Philistines until they begged Israel to come and get the Ark. Its return was heralded by a great celebration in Israel. When it arrived in Jerusalem, King David took to naked dancing in the streets! You may remember the story. What a wonderful event it was when the Ark came home.
Later the Ark was lost again. This time the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and took off with the Ark. That is about the last we heard of it. You may have heard the story that some Ethiopians claim to have it in the village of Aksum. The story is plausible but without any proof that it is indeed there, it is still but a guess. It was not this Ark, however, that returned to the Temple but Mary, blessed virgin, whose womb would bear the presence of God with His people and whose Son would redeem God's people from all their sins, once for all.
While I am not at all suggesting that the Infancy Gospel of St. James be given credibility here, the Presentation of our Lord and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin are, in a great sense, the return of the Ark to the Temple. In it as an infant Jesus is laying claim to His Father's house and Mary's role in this is attested by none other than the prophet Simeon.
The Virgin is the true Ark of God -- not of precious metal but of flesh that bears God's presence to us and opens the Holy of Holies. In the accounts of the dedication of the original Tabernacle of Moses and the First Temple of Solomon, the glory of God takes prominent place. When the Second Temple was dedicated there was instead a dire warning connected to the prophecy of 1 Sam. 4:21, when the daughter-in-law of the priest, Eli, died giving birth to a son. With her last breath, she named him “Ichabod” (“the glory has departed”).
According to the apocryphal account, when the child Mary enters the Temple in which the glory of God has departed, she restores that glory -- though without notice or fanfare. The Infancy Gospel of James describes her being taken into the Holy of Holies by Zachariah, her kinsman, whom we know only too well as the father of St. John the Forerunner.
The glory had departed until Jesus restored it, even at the cost of His own blood. The role of the Blessed Virgin in all of this remains prominent. What more can we say than Simeon said, longing for the consolation of Israel and the restoration of its glory, Now I can depart in peace for my eyes have seen thy glory. . .