The Christian festival of Candlemas celebrates the purification, when Mary and Joseph went with the little Jesus to the temple. This was a requirement in Jewish holy law, laid down in Leviticus chapter 12:
“Her time of blood purification shall be thirty-three days: she shall not touch any holy thing, or come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed…..When the days of her purification are completed, she shall bring to the priest..a lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon or turtle dove for a sin offering….If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take with her two turtle doves or two pigeons. The priest will make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean from her flow of blood.”
So after the birth of Jesus, Mary had to allow eight days before Jesus was circumcised, which was his naming ceremony. She then had to allow thirty-three days for her “blood purification”. At the end of these thirty-three days Mary and Joseph took their sacrifice of two pigeons to the temple to ask for her forgiveness and healing from the flow of blood.
Now how we see the purification ritual very much depends on where we are standing. In our society today we don’t see women as “unclean” after childbirth and at first sight this all looks rather primitive. But if you think back to the first century, childbirth was a terrifying, dangerous and very bloody business, with no pain relief, a high risk of infection and a high maternal mortality rate. It was seen as part of the curse of mankind, the curse following the fall in Genesis:
To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.
To be honest, childbirth is pretty scary today, even in Western society with all our midwifery and medical capabilities. For the young Mary it would have been terrifying, and she would have been relieved to survive as a healthy woman after giving birth.
There is no substitute for attending church – the communion, the community (the coffee and biscuits at the end!) ...but if you do miss a Sunday service you can find past sermons here