“What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was the same, and nothing that you did mattered?”
—Phil Connors in Groundhog Day
Every first-born male belongs to God, according to Exodus 13, and any family that wished to keep its first-born son instead of offering him up for religious service had to redeem him with a sacrifice in the Temple on the fortieth day after his birth. (This was also the day when a mother was deemed clean after giving birth, and thus could enter the Temple, which is why the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is also called the Feast of the Purification of Mary.) Families that were too poor to sacrifice an ox or even a goat could offer two doves, which was what Joseph and Mary brought when they took their son to be redeemed.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. —Luke 2:25-26
This devout old man, who had outlived his desire for life in waiting to see the Holy One of God, met the little family as they made their way to the sanctuary.
Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
Now, in 1993, director Harold Ramis brought forth a motion picture, and he called it Groundhog Day. In this film, Pittsburgh TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a self-absorbed and supercilious lout who clearly detests his annual trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the festivities surrounding Groundhog Day (which shares February 2 with the Feast of the Presentation.) He turns in a perfunctory, cynical report and, after trying unsuccessfully to seduce his attractive producer Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell), disdains to attend the annual party and goes to bed, having been prevented by a storm from returning to his beloved Pittsburgh.
The next morning he awakens to what, he is horrified to realize, is Groundhog Day again. He becomes trapped in a time loop, in which he awakens every morning to find all evidence of everything he did the previous day erased, and finds himself doomed to relive Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney over and over again.
Realizing his actions have no consequences, at first he recklessly pursues pleasure and acts out in outrageous ways. As despair sets in, he completes suicide by various means, only to wake up, once again, in his bed on Groundhog Day.
Slowly, changes in his personality set in. He learns the names and life histories of everyone in the town. He tries desperately—and ultimately unsuccessfully—to prevent the death of an aged homeless man. He takes piano lessons and becomes an accomplished player, learns French and Italian, and every day saves a boy from falling out of a tree and a man from choking to death in a restaurant. In the words of the baptismal vows from the Book of Common Prayer, he learns to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving (his) neighbor as (him)self.” He sees the light and the goodness in this little town he once thought so beneath him, and in its people, whom he once dismissed as “hicks.”
At last, he awakens, fully clothed, next to his beloved Rita, and realizes that he has finally broken out of his time-loop. It isn’t Groundhog Day any more! “What if I had not believed,” asked the psalmist “that I should see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:17). At last, Phil Connors had seen it.
He says to Rita, “Do you know what today is?”
“No, what?” Rita asks.
“Today is tomorrow. It happened. You’re here.”
Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.