Webteam: January 2020
Brexit: Depart in Peace
The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler, Secretary of the Methodist Conference, reflects on the UK leaving the European Union on 31 January
One of the festivals of the Church of which my Methodist upbringing did not make me greatly aware was Candlemas. It was only when I went up to University and took my place in an (High Church) Anglican College that I discovered the significance of the feast held on 2 February. The college was peculiar in holding its annual ball in the winter (and calling it Candlemass), but alongside that there was a liturgical observance that marked the end of the Epiphany season and a brief return to ordinary time before Lent began. That observance was centred around Luke's account of the Presentation of Christ, the hymn of Simeon, and the prophecies of division and pain as well as of salvation and glory.
For Simeon, the encounter with the Holy Family in the temple was a moment of release and completion: 'Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace...' As a new chapter in the story of salvation begins, this actor leaves the stage. There is both sadness and a sense of fulfilment in that poignant moment. As the final Christmas decorations are packed away, that same poignancy can be felt. We now move on with our life — as individuals, as churches, as a nation — knowing that in both pain and glory the Saviour of the World is with us.
When we come to celebrate the Presentation on Sunday 2 February , a new chapter in the United Kingdom's history will have begun as we will formally have left the European Union. Of course, there are deep divisions in the Church about whether or not that accords with God's will. For some, exiting the EU is the right step for the UK; for others, the departure of 31 January is a mistake of historic proportions. For some this will be a moment of rejoicing and a chance to look ahead with excitement; for others it is a time that they wished never to see and they look ahead with trepidation. That may be particularly the case for those brothers and sisters who are citizens of EU countries and who are deeply apprehensive about the future. We hold them in our intercessions at this time.
We know so little of Simeon. We cannot tell with what thankfulness and with what regret for all that he had seen and done he finally laid down his responsibility to watch and wait. Our prayer has to be that in this moment we may 'depart in peace', recognizing the mixed emotions that all will experience this week, acknowledging the hurts and fears of many and the joys of others (even where we do not understand those feelings), and committing into God's hands our nation's future and the future of our European neighbours.
The end of January will not mark the end of the debate as negotiations about the future relationship of the EU and the UK continue and the constituent parts of the United Kingdom work through the implications of departure. Our prayers will be both for the healing of the divisions that have come to light over the last four years and for our political representatives as they work to shape a plethora of future relationships. It is with an awareness of great complexity that we pray that our departure may be in peace.
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