A few years ago a friend told me that we don’t always get to see what we deserve to see. Sometimes we do.
She was awake before the sun came up. She heard that you didn’t need so much sleep when you get older. 105 years old, she wondered why she had to go bed at all. Slowly Anna sat up. Now came the hard part. She steadied herself, to pull herself to her feet.
Her feet. Flat, as leathery as her sandals, with toenails thick and gnarled. They knew every stone of the temple courts. They had taken her many places. They hurt terribly. But soon they would take her again, to pray. She moved the flap of her tent, a home in the outer Temple courts.
Anna watched in the semi-darkness as the priests stood in reverent silence before the East Gate. She knew the prayer they offered, that this might be the day. As they opened the gate and the first rays of sunlight touched the stones inside the door, they asked that in the same way the Spirit of God might return to the Temple. As Ezekiel had seen the vision of the God’s Spirit leaving the Temple just before the Babylonians attacked 600 years before, so they hoped that one day He might return with the dawn.
It was another beautiful sunrise, but that was all.
The priests walked reverently toward the next gate.
Anna was grateful for each new day, but wondered how many more sunrises God wanted her to see. She could not put off her walk any longer. She prayed that God would strengthen her legs, and stood up. The pain wasn’t so bad today. But each step was carefully taken.
The small crowd parted to allow her to sit on a step near the priest. Maybe she would stay there all day. The portico would keep her in the shade, and her feet would thank her at the end of the day. The priest unrolled his scroll, to begin the day’s reading of the prophet, Isaiah.
Isaiah, her brother in spirit.
Isaiah, a prophet, who spoke words God wanted his people to hear.
Anna did not think her words as important as Isaiah’s, but still God sometimes gave her something to say to his people. Often as not it was a quiet word of guidance to some pilgrim.
There was no doubt it was a gift. She had been widowed at 21. With no one to support her, her life had all the makings of a tragedy. But God spoke through her, and the Priests and others made sure she had a place to stay and food and water. The years stretched out, and she lived far longer than she had any reason to expect.
She knew the words of the prophet as well as the priest. The beginning of the fifty-second chapter of the book of Isaiah. Hope for the exiles, as someone ran to tell them the good news that God was about to take them home to Jerusalem.
Put on your strength, O Zion!
Put on your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city;
for the uncircumcised and the unclean
shall enter you no more.
Shake yourself from the dust,
O captive Jerusalem;
loose the bonds from your neck,
O captive daughter Zion!
For thus says the Lord: You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money. For thus says the Lord God: Long ago, my people went down into Egypt to live there as aliens, the Assyrian too, has oppressed them without cause. Now therefore what am I doing here, says the Lord, seeing that my people are taken away without cause? Their rulers howl, says the Lord, and continually, all day long, my name is despised. Therefore my people shall know my name; therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I.
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion,
“Your God reigns.”
Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy:
for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth
the salvation of our God.
Of course they had come back, only to face five more centuries of others telling them what to do. The Babylonians had been replaced by the Persians, Greeks, Egyptians, Seleucids and now the Romans. How good it would be to see Jerusalem redeemed, freed for God’s people. Oh to be the one to announce that good news, to have beautiful feet.
Anna’s feet didn’t look or feel beautiful. They hurt. Some affectionately called her “the ruin of Jerusalem” and some days she felt it more than others. Maybe today someone would come to her looking for a word from the Lord. Maybe today instead of food she would be offered some perfumed olive oil to rub into her tired feet, her old feet.
The priest finished reading. The small group of worshippers slowly dispersed, leaving Anna alone with her thoughts. She sat quietly for a time, and then slowly, using the pillar for support, pulled herself to her feet and faced the doors of the inner court of the Temple. Steadying herself, she raised her hands in supplication, looked heavenward, and began to pray. After an hour or so, she turned once again; the usual group of pilgrims had gathered before the altar. There sacrifice and incense were offered for cleansing and forgiveness and consecration and thanksgiving.
Anna caught a hurried motion out of the corner of her eye. What was young Simeon up to? He walked quickly, for his age, toward some newcomers to the group of pilgrims. A couple with a baby were joining the line. Simeon swept the infant into his arms, raised him heavenwards, and with tears of joy streaming down his face, praised God. And said some remarkable things about the baby. "My eyes have seen your salvation, the Gentiles’ light and Israel’s glory!"
The parents were shocked, but had little time to react. Simeon gave them back the child and left them alone. Anna stared, filled with her own sense of wonder. She did not feel her feet as she slowly, but with determination, walked over to the young family. Without taking the child away from his mother, she gently unwrapped some of the fabric that bound him, and gazed in wonder at the bare arm of the Lord.
She began to sing. One hundred and five years of hope poured out of her heart as she sang “Our God reigns!” Then she went and spoke to all who would listen, telling them that this child was the redeemer of Jerusalem. This child was the comfort of Israel. God was here and all the ends of the earth would see his salvation! She brought those she knew well, those who longed for Jerusalem’s redemption, those who longed for peace, who hoped in God, and introduced them to the parents, and the baby, until long after she was too tired to continue.
Anna let them be. She leaned against a pillar, and noticed that her feet weren’t quite so sore. After a few minutes, Anna’s beautiful feet slowly took her to the East Gate.