I find that making a genuine departure comes with its own unique difficulty. When we begin something new, we are confronted with sheer possibility, with the good or ill to come from our actions. What is unknown drives us to dream, plan, design, and live for something better yet to come. But departure is different. When we leave the place, tasks, people, pains and joys that we have lived and loved for so long, we are confronted not with the call of possibility but with the dismissal of powerlessness. And I have to admit that I (a sinner) do not easily come to feel peace without power.
Instead of peace, the impotence of departure tends to bequeath to us an anxiety which can be unendurable. On the one hand, we are powerless to mitigate the past. I once read over a grave in an English churchyard the chilling words, “What is done is what remains, and furious sorrow.” Convicted by our own faults and failings, by our former ignorance and current hindsight, by our own impoverished action and cowardly inaction, leaving we are left only with the gripping (even crushing) realization that we are powerless now to correct the past.
On the other hand, at the point of departure we become powerless to mitigate the future. Some fear being forgotten, but for most of us something much deeper threatens our peace. In our absence, who will love, protect, and care for those whom we love? Apart from us, who will promote and defend the purposes for which we have labored? We ordinarily have no answer, and leaving we are left only with the sinking realization that we are now powerless to affect the future.
I have really been mulling over these dynamics a lot lately, mostly because I have come to a series of radical departures in my life. Beginning at the end of December, I began the long process of uprooting myself from California and from the United States. I moved out of my apartment, ended my day job, was commissioned as a missionary, and have been begun the process of saying farewell to friends. Letting go will come of course to a gigantic climax when I board a plane in March and head to Argentina to begin a new life there. And this anxiety of powerlessness in departure, of regret for the past and uncertainty in the future, has been a real temptation for me.
But Simeon, that elderly man in Luke 2 who found himself face-to-face with the redemption of the Redeemer in the temple, gives me some hope for departure in peace: “Peace,” as our Lord says, “that the world cannot give.” Simeon, a righteous and devout man, had been “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” that is, waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises to bring his Kingdom and to manifest his glory to Israel and to the entire world. And for some reason, in his infinite wisdom, God had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Christ.
And then finally, after years of waiting, the “Lord himself,” as the prophet had said, “suddenly came into his temple.” Without warning (perhaps) this Lord came clothed in human flesh, wrapped up as a tiny baby boy in the arms of Mary and Joseph to be bought back from God by an impoverished sacrifice of two pigeons. The three of them slipped unobtrusively into the temple to consecrate the Son of David, completely unrecognized by all with the exception of the now ancient Simeon who, completely overwhelmed with revelation and emotion, just could not stow his enthusiasm or his hands. He interrupts these dutiful parents by grabbing the boy and offering praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God in a Song, of all things, about departure.
Simeon bursts out, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word;” oddly enough, he finds the most peace precisely at the point where we naturally find the most anxiety: at the point of departure (from this mortal coil). He fears neither death nor the fate of his people nor his own sentence on Judgment Day. Simeon not only is at peace with his departure: he actually departs in peace. What in the world could have given Simeon this confidence, this boldness, and this courage?
Simeon continues, “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people.” Simeon held in his arms God’s Salvation and God’s Savior, God’s answer to our past regrets and future fears. This baby, “a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel,” terminates Simeon’s anxiety, our anxiety, and the despair hanging over the nations of the earth. The cooing, drooling, wailing Jesus had come in miniature to bring the totality of God’s purposes, promises, and plans to completion to such an extent that departure would have no more anxiety, death no more sting, and judgment no more condemnation.
This Child silences regret for the past by crucifying our past to his own cross, the pain of which would “pierce the heart” of his own mother. Safe in his scars, his perfect life overwrites our wretched lives, not only to redeem our ignorance, sin, and error but also to interweave them perfectly and tightly into the marvelous fabric of God’s plan for all things. What is more, this Child quenches anxiety for the future in his own almighty ascended glory by securing “the rise and fall” of all. United to his resurrection by way of his sufferings, we can rest assured that the one whose death gave him all authority in heaven and on earth will be able to bring to completion the good work that he has begun in his creation. As the Apostle John says, “perfect love casts out all fear,” and there is no greater love than his.
I am indeed preparing to depart, and it is not without some pain, not without the unknown, not without a cost. But I nevertheless depart in peace, peace which abides despite the tumult around and within my soul, peace which rests securely and only in the words of our Lord: “Take heart: I have overcome the world.” May that very peace of Christ be with you this day and always.