Summary: A sermon for Candlmass inspired by David Mitchell's novel "Cloud Atlas". I only discovered the day after giving this that Cloud Atlas is about to be turned in a Hollywood Blockbuster.
This is Cloud Atlas. [show a physical copy of the book]. I wonder, have you read it perhaps? Or perhaps you heard about it when it was shortlisted for the booker prize.
I remember when I read it - it’s not a book you forget. There are six stories in it, and each story breaks off half way through. The first is set in 1850s New Zealand and the Pacific Ocean, the next in 1930’s central Europe, the next in 1975, the next today and the final two at different stages in the future.
I remember reading this novel gripped, always wanting to know what happened next. What would happen to character Adam Ewing? What would happen to character Robert Frobisher? And just at that point that story would be interrupted and the next one would beginning, both leaving you hanging but also tying in to a previous narrative.
I had always known it, but Cloud Atlas reminded me how powerful stories are at communicating meaning.
What about the Bible for example? So much of what we learn in Scripture is not through sermons or commandments, but through stories. For example the story we heard in our Gospel reading.
Simeon is in the Temple. The familiar stone pillars and floors where he has been coming day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Some days it is full and bustling the noise of lambs bleating; poor people’s pigeon’s squawking; young Families coming to present their first born sons in the ancient rite that goes back to Moses. Other days the Temple is quiet, almost empty, but still Simeon is there, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Some days are feast days with the inevitable bustle. So many people crowding in for Pesach, Yom Kipor, Chanukah. It’s hard to squeeze in past the crowds. But still Simeon is there.
There’s someone else who is there day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Her name is Anna, an old lady, wrinkled and bent. She has been coming at least as long as Simeon. Each morning they look at each other across the courtyard. Will it be today? And each night they go back home. It wasn’t today. They are waiting.
Until today. Simeon gets up in morning, just as he has done so many days for so many years. washes. Puts his clothes on. Eats a bagel. And heads to the Temple. He gestures hello to Anna as he does every day. And then he sees the couple. There are so many young couples coming in with their babies. Each family is special, so full of joy, so proud of their firstborn son. But Simeon knows. This child is different.
It’s not a rich family. They haven’t got a lamb to sacrifice, just the two turtle doves. Simeon is nervous. Is this really it? He walks up to family and looks straight into the eyes of the baby. he reaches out to pick the baby up- then he’ll know for sure - Is this it? Is this the Light of the Nations? He reaches his hands out to hold what might be the light of the world.
But before we find out what happens next, let’s think about light. I read a wonderful story the other day about light. It was about one of these big fluorescent lights (hold one up - use it to mime the actions while describing the story that follows). There’s a man in New York, we’ll call him Chuck. And the light in Chuck’s office breaks. Now of course with modern health and safety legislation, you can’t simply drop a fluorescent light in the bin. There’s dangerous chemicals inside these. You have to dispose of them properly. Like many of us, Chuck is fed up with Health and Safety Legislation. Why should he have to pay this silly fee just to get rid of a fluorescent tube? I’m not saying you should- but have you ever felt like that? There’s so many forms for Chuck to fill in. So many ratios and rules and regulations. Is Chuck mean and penny-pinching or is he just fed up? You’ll have to decide that. But Chuck decides he is going cheat. Rather than paying the fee, and filling the forms in to dispose of this light, he is going to dump it somewhere at the side of a road.