Anna is easy to just pass over. Simeon immediately precedes her and gives us the Nunc Dimittis which we recite every evening during Compline. But Anna, as far as we are concerned, is mute.
In today’s Gospel, we learn a bit about her lineage. She is of the tribe of Asher and her father was Phanuel, which means “face of God.” She was widowed when still a young woman, being married only 7 years before her husband died. She spent the rest of her life in the temple, about 60 years by the time we meet her.
Joseph and Mary come to the temple to present their offering and while they are there, Anna comes forward at that very time and gives thanks to God.
That may be Anna’s lesson for us. If we zoom out and consider the temple, we see a busy place with people coming to offer sacrifices and pray. It was a gathering place, so those seeking disciples for their cause would be present to teach or debate. We know that merchants took the opportunity to sell their wares in the courts as well: animals for offerings and money exchange so the temple tax could be paid in the proper currency.
In the midst of this hustle and bustle of another day in the temple, a family comes with their firstborn for the offering. But this one is different. The very presence of God has just been carried into the temple by this Galilean couple. The actual body and blood of the Lord, the one who was to be the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world, is in the midst of the temple. And no one notices except Simeon and Anna.
How does Anna know?
Sixty years of prayer and fasting didn’t hurt anything.
We don’t know a word that Anna said, but we know that she acknowledged Christ. Her reward, at least in part, is a cameo in sacred scripture.
Simeon is pretty straightforward; he says words and we can try to understand them. Anna is a bit of a mystery; she just is. We have to observe and that takes time. We do not have any sound bites to quickly decide if we like her or not.
For me at least, the lesson of Anna today is to remind me to be humble and come to Scripture to learn. We cannot always learn in a hurry. Sometimes we must be willing to sit, listen, and ponder.
The hustle and bustle of the holidays is assumed, and most of us live with a certain amount of frenzy every day. We do well to run into a quiet Anna who doesn’t play our fast paced games. The way to learn from her is imitation. Fast and pray. Sit and ponder. Maybe for sixty years. When reading scripture, ask God, “What are you trying to tell me?” instead of asking myself, “What can I say about this?”
Anna, be patient with us, that we may learn your patience.