Who was this Anna? Unlike many other women in the Bible, we get a portion of Anna’s genealogy. We see she is of the tribe of Asher. Her husband is not named, not identified. In a patriarchal society Anna lost her husband but not her identity. She was able to stay rooted in who she was and in whose she was. It is agonizing to go from a ‘we’ to a ‘me’, but losing your spouse does not mean you have to lose yourself. A part of you will die. This is unavoidable. But another part, a deeper part, will remain.
Though we get a view of Anna’s lineage we don’t get to actually hear her speak. It’s clear she is a prophet and Gonzalez describes her encounter with Jesus this way: “Characteristically, Luke balances a prophetic utterance from a man with another from a woman. Both are profoundly religious…Both are prophets. Upon seeing the child, both praise God and make declarations about him, although Simeon’s words are quoted in the text, and Anna’s are not.” We do not get to hear what she says. I bet her declaration was better than Simeon’s (just kidding…kinda).
We also know that Anna was passionate about the redemption of Israel. She wasn’t at the temple solely seeking help with the grief, shame and pain that comes with widowhood. No, she was lifting up an entire nation. She was after radical societal change. Levine puts it this way, “Anna [is] less the frail prophet and more an echo of an ancient warrior…Anna is no quiet prophet; she is a vocal and visual symbol of Israel’s hopes”
The opposite of grief isn’t happiness, it’s hope. Somehow Anna was able to regain hope – not just for herself but for an entire nation. And I’m not talking about a namby-pamby, “I hope there’s cake in the staff room today…” This was a hope that took hold of her and propelled her into action. N.T. Wright describes it this way, “Anna is in touch with the people who are waiting for the redemption of Israel. They are both living in a world of patient hope, where suffering has become a way of life. It now appears that God’s appointed redeemer will deal with this suffering by sharing it himself.” Anna was there to see this appointed redeemer because her hope allowed her to keep showing up.
Since Anna isn’t given her own words in this passage, it’s easy to picture her as quiet or even worse, thoughtless. The meek and mild woman who silently prays at the temple all day. But God doesn’t single out people who don’t have nothing to say. Quiet they may be but silent and thoughtless they are not. Also, I don’t think it’s possible to be so earnestly seeking day after day and not find anything, Anna must have discovered so many truths., truths that she then shared. God took that space that once said wife and then said widow and made it say prophet.
Anna was only able to develop her new role as prophet because she showed up. She did not lock up her grief in her house, she paraded it to the temple. She inserted herself with the worshipping people of God and she never left. Anna knew what Barclay would write centuries later, “we rob ourselves of a priceless treasure when we neglect to be one with God’s worshipping people.” Everything Anna was able to do – her ministry, her reach, her declaration to Mary and Joseph – all of that was only possible because she showed up.
When you are deep in grief you feel like an alien. You are not. You feel like everyone is staring at you. They are not. You feel like you couldn’t possibly leave your house, and you certainly can’t plant yourself in a church pew. You can and you should. It will be hard. You may have tears streaming down your face for the entire service, but you can do it. (I highly recommend bringing some lollipops). And once you do you will know you are home. Even when everything else is chaos and brokenness – this is sure. It will re-stabilize and reorient you. It can renew your hope and start to lift the fog of grief. But it can’t happen if you don’t show up.