"Depart in Peace:" Simeon and the Days after Christmas

Rev. Mark Buetow

Luke 2:22-40

“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.”

You should know that when your pastor tells you to “Depart in peace” at the communion rail, he’s not telling you that you can get up and go back to your pew. He’s telling you that it’s OK to die. Depart in peace. That’s what the Lord promised Simeon and once he had seen and held baby Jesus, he could die in peace. Simeon looked forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises and he saw those promises fulfilled when the Christ child was in his arms. After that, Simeon could die in peace. The Old Adam doesn’t want to die. The world goes kicking and screaming into death. Admit it, you hate the thought of death, of another person, of your own. Our ears are flooded by ridiculous sayings that try to explain death away: “God wanted another angel.” “It was her time.” “Death is just a part of life.” That’s all baloney. Death is the sting of sin and the Law, plain and simple. But Simeon teaches us that once you have Christ, death is nothing. In fact, having received Christ, death is something we go to in peace, in Christ.

Simeon tells Mary that a sword will pierce her own soul. This little baby is going to die. Horribly. Painfully. Suffering. Hated. Mocked. Bloody. Nailed to a cross. What mother would want to see that happen to her son? No mother should have to bury her own son but this is a death that is no accident or disease. This is the hatred of sinners putting her son to death. It is her own sins and the sin of the whole world. Your sins. But what Simeon knows, what Simeon confesses and sings, is that this is salvation. “My eyes have seen your salvation.” This baby in Simeon’s arms is not just some tragedy going to happen years later. He is the One whose death saves sinners. His is the death and resurrection by which our death is transformed. His is the death and resurrection from the dead which take the sting out of death. It is the victory over sin and death that enables Simeon to sing, “Lord, let your servant depart in peace.”

Now you haven’t held baby Jesus in your arms like Simeon but you have Christ come to you in these ways: in the water and Word of the holy font; in the absolution and preaching of your pastor; in the Word given in the Scriptures; in His own body and blood given in His Supper. Here in these gifts, Christ saves you. Forgives you. Prepares you for death and gives you the gift of everlasting life. I don’t know what is going to happen to you when you walk out that door. I hope and pray that each of you live a long and happy life and fall asleep peacefully in Jesus at a good old age. But we all know that anything can happen. And whether it’s an accident or disease, or something else, death is there. So before you get up and walk out that door, I shall tell you these words after the Sacrament: “Depart in peace.” And we shall sing them with Simeon, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.” And when I say those words and when we sing them together, we are confessing, in the face of death, that death has no power over us. It is merely a passing to the everlasting life Christ has in store for us and the resurrection of our bodies He has promised us on the Last Day. This Child was born so that sin and death would be thrown down. Now that He has come and done His work of dying and rising, and now that He has come to you and done His work of washing and feeding and forgiving, death has no power over you. Ever. Therefore, like Simeon, and all of Christ’s lambs before you, you can depart in peace. And I don’t mean get up and go. I mean you can die. In peace. In Christ. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Created: January 1st, 2013