Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

March 20, 2017 Comments Off on Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

Artist: Sylvia Duff

What I love about this Veronica, apart from the fact that she was painted by a young person, is that she herself looks young and approachable.  It is also notable that the artist chose to depict Veronica in the manner of many Greek Orthodox icons of Veronica, after she had already wiped the face of Jesus and, I’m sure unexpectedly for her, gotten her reward in the imprint of Jesus’s face on the cloth she used.  Since she looks so approachable, I can imagine asking her “Were you frightened, Veronica, when you stepped out from the protective anonymity of the crowd to perform an act of such compassion?”  How might she answer?  In my imagination, she is modest and matter-of–fact, replying that she did nothing special, only what needed to be done.  Moved by the blood and sweat of a very human Jesus, Veronica recognized that he might appreciate having his face wiped and did it.  She wasn’t expecting any lasting result.   What she got was proof that Jesus was not only man, but also God, as the image of his face remained on her cloth.  In traditional Western depictions of this station, we see Veronica doing the wiping of the human face of Jesus; in this one we see the divinity of Jesus.  It’s worth noting that Veronica is not named in Scripture and nothing is known about her life and death.  Her existence is preserved in sacred tradition.

What is the message of Veronica for twenty-first century Christians today?  Consider this:  Perhaps the message is that sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and do what needs to be done, if you even remotely think whatever needs doing is in your power to do.  Think about what the implications might be, well beyond what you may at first imagine.  Does the legend of Veronica challenge you?  How might you respond to the challenge?  These are some of the questions that praying before this station raised for me.  What questions occur to you as you look at the image? The answers will be as varied as the people looking at Veronica as she is seen here.  That’s one of the wonderful things about art; it affects each person differently and individually.  May you each find your own message as you pray the Stations of the Cross this Lent.

– Julia Alberino

Composer Spotlight Lent III: Frei Manuel Cardoso

March 17, 2017 Comments Off on Composer Spotlight Lent III: Frei Manuel Cardoso

The choral music scheduled at St. Luke’s for the Third Sunday in Lent (March 19th) will be:

  • Constanzo Porta – Oculi mei
  • Manuel Cardoso – Aquam quam ego dabo
  • G.P. da Palestrina – Sicut cervus/Sitivit anima

– Blog Editor

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The Portuguese monk and composer Frei Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650) was renowned not only for his musical skill, but also for his humility, a fact the more noticeable on account of the close connections he maintained with the royal house of Braganza.  He was praised by Philip IV of Spain as well as the Duke of Braganza, the future John IV of Portugal (whose setting of Crux fidelis is sung each year at St. Luke’s on Good Friday), who may have been his student.  Aquam quam ego dabit is from a series of motets for various feasts preceding Easter, culminating in a series of responsories for Holy Week, found in the Livro de vários motetes, published in Lisbon by Craesbeeck in 1649, which the composer described as a “child of my old age”.  The text will be found in Sunday’s Gospel reading.

For more information about Cardoso and his style here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manuel_Cardoso

Here is a link to his Requiem, unbelievably beautiful:

And his Lamentations:

– David Shuler, Director of Music

Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry the Cross

March 16, 2017 Comments Off on Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry the Cross

Artists: Jacqui Taylor Basker and Ihsan Bandak

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” These famous words from Matthew 16:24-25 have become a kind of summary in the gospel. Jesus utters them in the gospel of John to a wide audience of followers, before the reality of Jesus’ own crucifixion has become clear to them.

It seems natural to think of this verse in connection to the fifth station of the cross: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross. Yet there a few important differences. First, this is not a matter of everyone taking up the cross; the burden in this scene is Simon’s to carry alone. Second, Simon is not carrying his own cross. He is carrying the cross of Jesus, which begs the question of whether Simon agreed to do this in the first place. Was this an act of charity? Of compulsion? The narratives in the synoptic gospels don’t give us these specifics.

There is a huge difference between taking up your own cross and taking on the cross of another. This is a central concern in the work of womanist theologian Delores Williams. In her book Sisters in the Wilderness, Williams highlights the dangerous implications embedded in our beliefs about the crucifixion of Jesus. If Jesus’ salvation operates through his suffering on the cross, what does that say about suffering? Do we run the risk of glorifying suffering when we celebrate the death of Jesus? And most importantly, what does this mean when certain people are made to bear sufferings in society more than others? For Williams, the weight of this burden falls most heavily on women of color, the perpetual surrogate mothers of American history.

Lent is a time when many Christians respond to Jesus’ exhortation to “take up your cross and follow me” with embodied action—giving up a beloved food, or taking on a practice that may seem initially like a burden. As we take on these extra burdens, I hope that we will remember those people who are carrying a heavy load this season, and not by choice. I hope we will remember the mother who stays late at work to pay for her apartment in a neighborhood where rents are steadily rising. I hope we will remember the refugees who have “given up” their homes because of the threat of violence.

For Delores Williams, the most important thing about Jesus’ life was not his death and suffering—it was his life. The same thing ought to be true for all of us as we take up our crosses during this season of Lent. Too often we fixate on stage of losing our lives and forget that the purpose of the cross is to find life. May we look for life this season, not only for ourselves but also for everyone who is carrying a heavy burden.

– Heidi Thorsen Oxford

A View from the Sacristy: St. Luke’s Chapel Altarpiece

March 15, 2017 Comments Off on A View from the Sacristy: St. Luke’s Chapel Altarpiece

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Brome

In many churches, the chapel behind the high (main) altar is often called “The Lady Chapel” and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  We do not have that tradition at St. Luke’s, but perhaps we should!

This week I want to explore the altarpiece in our chapel.

“An altarpiece is an artwork such as a painting, sculpture or relief representing a religious subject made for placing behind the altar of a Christian church. Though most commonly used for a single work of art such as a painting or sculpture, or a set of them, the word can also be used of the whole ensemble behind an altar, otherwise known as a reredos, including what is often an elaborate frame for the central image or images. Altarpieces were one of the most important products of Christian art especially from the late Middle Ages (5th to 15th centuries) to the era of the Counter-Reformation (beginning with the Council of Trent in 1545 and ending with the close of the Thirty years’ War in 1648).” [wiki]

St. John of Damascus called an icon a “channel of divine grace,” the place where heaven and earth meet, so that we can have a glimpse of heaven. Iconographer John Walstead, late of Staten Island, created our altarpiece in the traditional style of the Eastern Orthodox church. The altarpiece is a series of five icons with scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary as recorded in both the Gospel of St. Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. These five events are only found in Luke’s Gospel: (1) The central panel is a depiction of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:22-40); (2) the scene on the upper left is a scene from the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38); (3) below this is the Visitation (Luke 1:39-57); (4) on the upper right is the scene of the Disputation (a.k.a., The Finding in the Temple, and also called “Christ among the Doctors”) (Luke 2:41-52); and (5) the lower right is a scene from the Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11). Let’s press in and take a closer look.

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Brome

(1) Traditionally, the Feast of the Presentation is kept on February 2nd. At St Luke’s we celebrate it on the first Sunday of February since that is also the date of our parish’s annual meeting. Luke weaves a story of Mary and Joseph as faithful parents who bring their infant son to the Temple in thanksgiving to God for the safe delivery of the child. The Holy Spirit has moved two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, who spent their whole life in and around the temple in Jerusalem waiting for what Simeon called the consolation and redemption of Israel, to meet Mary and Joseph in the temple where the two aged prophets say amazing things about the baby to his parents. (I always try to figure out which moment from the Presentation is portrayed.) In our icon we see the moment when “[Simeon] took [Jesus] up in his arms and blessed God and said…” (Luke 2:28) and will soon praise God with the words of the Nunc Dimittis (“Now you dismiss…”), which is also called The Song or Canticle of Simeon:

 Lord, you now have set your servant free * to go in peace as you have promised; For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, * whom you have prepared for all the world to see: A Light to enlighten the nations, * and the glory of your people Israel.

 We pray the Nunc Dimittis, appropriately, at the end of Compline (bedtime prayer) every day, and also as a choice of one of the 19 canticles recited at Evening Prayer. One of these canticles is said or sung after each reading.

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Brome

(2) The next scene, the Annunciation, is the story of the Angel Gabriel coming to visit the Virgin Mary to announce to her that she has been chosen to be the mother of Jesus. This Feast is kept on March 25th every year. It is appropriately nine months before Christmas and always falls during Lent. In Western Europe until the 15th Century, March 25th was New Year’s Day! We see the Virgin busy spinning yarn, being startled, and dropping her spindle in response to the words of the Angel Gabriel as he approaches from behind and says, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (Luke1: 28). Many devotees of the Virgin Mary would argue that she was accustomed to visits by angels and it wasn’t the angel that startled her but the message the angel gave. In our icon, the response of Mary to the words of the angel is so human. I often think, does one hear an angel as he approaches? Or do angels just appear and that’s why their first words are always, “Fear not!”

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Brome

(3) Our eye travels downward and we see the scene of the Visitation. As the story goes, after the Annunciation, the Virgin Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth who herself is pregnant with her first child, even well after the time she should be able to conceive. (Elizabeth’s son will be John the Baptist.) Tradition tells us that the Virgin left right away, going “into the hill country…into a city of Judah”. The journey from Nazareth to Hebron is about 81 miles in a direct line, which is about 21 hours of easy walking. Elizabeth was in her sixth month before Mary came (Luke 1:36). The Feast of the Visitation is of medieval origin and was promoted by the Franciscans. It is now kept on May 31st, but for many years was held on July 2nd and in some places is still celebrated on that day. In most icons of this scene the two women are standing and greeting each other, but in our icon the Virgin is sitting and Elizabeth comes in to greet her. Perhaps our icon shows that moment in the story where Luke writes, “And Mary remained with her about three months” (Luke 1:56). Elizabeth does not hold a baby so we can assume that John the Baptist has not been born, and most scholars hold the Virgin stayed with Elizabeth through the birth of John. In this lovingly depicted scene, we have two very human mothers-to-be keeping each other company. Perhaps they are exchanging the miraculous stories of how each found her self to be a mother for the first time.

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Brome

(4) The Disputation, or the Finding of the Boy Jesus in the Temple, has no appointed Feast day on the church calendar. It is, however, the Gospel lesson for the Feast of St. Joseph which occurs on March 19th, and one of the suggested Gospel lessons for the Second Sunday of Christmas (which, because of the calendar, happens rarely, so this is not a story we hear very often). Jesus is 12 years old and comes to Jerusalem with his family for Passover. As Jesus’ parents are on the way back home, they realize that Jesus is not with them. (This does not make them bad parents, it’s just that villagers often walked in packs, visiting here and there along the way, going from one group to another; we presume the kids would gambol and play, rushing ahead and lagging behind.) They return to Jerusalem and “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2: 46). This is the scene we see in our icon. The icon writer has used the traditional depiction of figures in the Byzantine style where the more important figures are larger, so the boy Jesus looms over the adult scribes. There is no confusion about the figure in the doorway since she has a halo and is identified as the Virgin above her head with the Greek letters “Mρ ΘY,” an abbreviation of Meter Theou (Μήτηρ Θεοῦ) – in Greek, the Mother of God. It is interesting that the icon writer uses perspective so that figures closer to the horizon appear smaller, as we see the Virgin coming through the doorway to find her son.

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Brome

(5) The final scene, on the lower right, is an icon of the goings-on from the Day of Pentecost. This is one of the seven major Feasts of the Episcopal Church (see pp. 15 – 17 in The Book of Common Prayer) and occurs 50 days after Easter on a Sunday, so that generally falls in late April or May.  Pentecost is the day the Church remembers the arrival of the Comforter, God’s Holy Spirit, which Jesus promised to send to his followers to give them understanding, boldness, and strength to help them spread the Good News. According to the First Book of Acts, the twelve were together in the Upper Room after the Lord’s Ascension and, “devoted themselves to prayer together with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14). Our icon is from the Second Book of Acts: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them.” (Acts 2:1-3). We can see the flames coming down from the circle of heaven to rest on the heads of the Virgin and the apostles. The Virgin sits in the center of the apostles with six on either side. She is also portrayed a bit lager in size in the Byzantine style, so the viewer knows that she is the most important figure in the scene. The crowned figure in the darkened arch represents the world that sits in darkness waiting to hear the good news.

Well, I hope you had an interesting walk about the alterpiece with me and look forward to seeing it in person when the veils come off after Easter (!) for Luke, actually, is all around.

Next week we will think about St Luke in his role as “the painter”.

– Sean Scheller

Lenten Reflection: Letter and Spirit

March 14, 2017 Comments Off on Lenten Reflection: Letter and Spirit

Give us all a reverence for the earth as your own creation, that we may use its resources rightly in the service of others and to your honor and glory.

Bless all those whose lives are closely linked with ours, and grant that we may serve Christ in them, and love one another as he loves us.

The above are two of prayers of the people on the last Sunday after the Epiphany. These are two petitions I find not only to be dear but linked. I have a short story to tell that points toward the linkage. Roughly twenty years ago, I spent Thanksgiving with my friends, Jay and Warren, in Massachusetts. At the dinner table I sat next to Warren’s cousins. They were a lovely young couple who owned a dairy farm. Since cows never take a holiday, they needed to leave the festivities early. I was thrilled when they invited my hosts and me to visit the farm on the next day. I had another friend, Harry, who always said that if he was ever reincarnated he wanted to come back as a cow. He loved their sweetness and their calm demeanor. Touring the farm, I understood what Harry meant. I had never been so up close and personal with cows; it was a treat.

My friends led me to a part of the farm that looked like a quaint miniature village. A series of individual plastic huts housed the calves. Talk about up close and personal, the calves came right up to me and began to chew my knees. Because it didn’t hurt, I found It sweet and a little bit icky. In my naivety I took their approach to be a friendly, puppy dog kind of greeting.

In the sermon on the last Sunday after the Epiphany, Fr. William told his own story about living in a charming cottage with one major drawback: a dark, dank cellar. He confessed to going down to the cellar as infrequently as possible. But, since the Christmas decorations were stored there, come December it was necessary to take the plunge. He prefaced the next part of the story by telling us how much he hates spiders. When he turned on the light to the cellar, he caught sight of an unwelcome, very spidery guest.

Fr. William connected his experience to Lent. When the light shines on our own dark cellars, we often see the things we need to work on, things we would rather not see. Lent is the season we set aside for letting in God’s light and praying for understanding of what we see.

It took many years before the light shone on what I thought was my playful introduction to the calves. The truth is, on a dairy farm calves are separated from their mothers at birth. They are deprived of their mother’s milk and given a substitute (most likely corn based and grown in a monoculture). The calves were not greeting me, they were trying to use my knobby knees as a pacifier. It didn’t work out well on either side.

In Genesis 1:26, God says that humans are made in her image, and that we have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, cattle and wild animals, and everything that creeps upon the earth. Dominion implies stewardship. As Mother Stacey said in her sermon on Ash Wednesday, humans have proven to be very bad at reverencing the earth and using its resources rightly. In fact, we are so bad at it that we make continued human existence on the planet look like a very short term affair.

Part of the problem, I believe, is the notion established in Genesis, and continued throughout the Bible, that we are at the pinnacle of life’s hierarchy. It causes us to ignore animal life when we are blessing lives connected to our own and serving Christ in them. I don’t think I need to tell you that the cruelty I witnessed when I met the calves is mild compared to what else happens on factory farms (chicks ground up live, animals raised in their own waste, animals kept in spaces that prohibit movement, etc.).

I love the parts of the New Testament where Jesus goes against what is proscribed to establish what is compassionate. He flouted the Sabbath laws in order to heal and feed the hungry. Maybe it is time to rethink the hierarchy to arrive at a model that incorporates compassion. Since all creatures are created by God, maybe we can view ourselves as part of a connected community, part of an ecosystem instead of lords of the pyramid.

 Animal production is the largest human made cause of greenhouse gases, and takes up roughly a third of the planet’s land. It is a major cause of deforestation, and therefore a major factor in pollution and climate change. A larger amount of land is needed to produce a meat-based diet. Therefore, population growth renders a meat-based diet unsustainable.

 So, I’m wondering if in this time of the gift of Lent, we might let a little of God’s illuminating light fall onto our plate?

– Suzanne Pyrch

The Fourth Station: Jesus Meets His Mother

March 13, 2017 Comments Off on The Fourth Station: Jesus Meets His Mother

Artist: James Middleton

The fourth station of the cross has often been called, “Jesus meets his afflicted mother.” I can’t imagine that “afflicted” does justice to what Mary’s feelings must have been. Afflicted sounds like a sore throat or a head cold. Mary was feeling something much worse. She was in the midst of a nightmare. Her son was taking his final steps. Mary knew it would only get worse as her son’s naked body would be lifted on the cross, left to burn in the sun as he slowly bled and suffocated. More than affliction, this was completely helpless gut wrenching torment and indescribable agony.

Mary had been there throughout Jesus’ life. She gave birth to him, swaddled him, cared for him, watched as he learned to smile, laugh, cry, and walk. She watched him go from being a child into a young man. She watched as he came into his own, a talented Rabbi and a worker of wonders. Mary watched as the crowds gathered around her son, just to hear him, see him, or even touch the corner of his garments. She no doubt hoped along with many of Jesus’ disciples that her son would be the one anointed to restore Israel: the Messiah, a wise and strong king.

Now it was all going wrong. While he once had a band of devoted followers, he now was almost completely abandoned. While people once gathered to hear him teach, they now gathered to mock him. She thought he was destined for glory, but instead he would die on top of a stinking rubbish heap for all to see.

I wondered what I might say to a person going through such a nightmare? What would I say to Mary? Would I tell her that “God works in mysterious ways” or that “God has a bigger plan.” Would I use dark humor to defuse the situation? Would I get nihilistic, saying something about the fact that we are all going to die? If I’m truly honest with myself, I don’t think I would have anything to say to Mary. Sometimes, there is nothing to say, because our words couldn’t possibly fix anything. Sometimes, we can only thing we can do is stand with a person while they are going through a terrible ordeal. We can pause at this station of the cross and stand with Mary. Not trying to make things better, but just to be with her. While we stand there, we ought to remember that we can’t rush the resurrection; we can only stand with the people who need it the most.

– S.J. Lloyd

Lenten Quote of the Week: Desiderius Erasmus

March 11, 2017 Comments Off on Lenten Quote of the Week: Desiderius Erasmus

“Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.”

– Desiderius Erasmus

Composer Spotlight Lent II: Orlande de Lassus and Heinrich Schütz

March 11, 2017 Comments Off on Composer Spotlight Lent II: Orlande de Lassus and Heinrich Schütz

The choral music scheduled at St. Luke’s for the Second Sunday in Lent (March 12th) will be:

  • Plainsong – Reminiscere miserationem (Introit)
  • Orlande de Lassus – Missa In die tribulationis
  • Heinrich Schütz – Sicut Moses serpentem in deserto exaltavit

– Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt

– Blog Editor

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Orlande de Lassus (1532-1594) was born at Mons (in present-day Belgium) but spent his formative years in Italy.  His parents had eventually allowed him to leave home at the age of twelve, to join the household of Ferdinando Gonzaga, Viceroy of Sicily, as a boy treble.  In 1553 he was appointed maestro di cappella at the Lateran Basilica in Rome, but left after six months to return to his dying parents in Flanders.  In 1556 he was engaged by the Duke of Bavaria as a singer and joined the Court Chapel in Munich where Ludwig Daser wasKapellmeister.  In about 1563 Lassus was promoted to the latter post, which he occupied until his death.

He achieved enormous success as a composer of both sacred and secular music which appeared throughout Europe in more than 500 different contemporary publications.  He was granted a patent of nobility and coat of arms in 1570 by Maximilian, and created a Knight of the Golden Spur by Pope Gregory XIII in 1574.  He was capable of writing in any and every genre current in his lifetime (although he wrote little purely instrumental music) from villanellae at one extreme to massive polychoral motets at the other.  His output was prodigious, his technique impeccable, the level of inspiration consistently high, and he was in charge of the largest musical establishment of the late 16thCentury which totaled over 70 singers and players at its peak.

Lassus’s Missa In die tribulationis is a parody mass based on a motet by Jacquet de Mantua (1483-1559), a French composer active in Italy and one of the leading composers of sacred polyphony between Josquin and Palestrina.

Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) was the Electoral Saxon Kapellmeister at the court of Dresden from 1617 until his death.  He can be regarded as an honorary Italian in today’s company, having studied both with Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi in Venice.  Their influence on Schütz is unmistakable.  Sicut Moses serpentem is found in a collection entitled Cantiones Sacrae published in 1625.  The 35 Latin motets of the Cantiones Sacrae display an extraordinary intensity of feeling in response to the words.  At the beginning of Sicut Moses, the words “serpentem in deserto exaltavit” (“lifted the serpent in the desert”) is set to an arresting rising scale passage of over an octave.

Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt (‘For God so love the world’), SWV 380, is from the 1648 collection entitled Geistliche Chormusik. is is the briefest of all the motets in the collection, and is mostly homophonic and more in the character of a hymn than the complex counterpoint of the other pieces.  It is almost as if Schütz wanted to treat this iconic cornerstone text as a congregational creed of faith rather than as a commentary.

For listening, I’d suggest Lassus’s Lamentations (for Tenebrae services):

and the motetMedia vita (‘In the midst of life we are in death…’)

 

For Schütz, Selig sind die Toten (‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord’)

– David Shuler, Director of Music

The Third Station: Jesus Falls the First Time

March 9, 2017 Comments Off on The Third Station: Jesus Falls the First Time

Jesus falls the first time

Artist: Madeleine Borderies

Recently a wise person gave me advice about writing an application essay: When describing significant issues or struggles, “move quickly to the resolution.” Don’t dwell too long on what has been painful or limiting for you, without putting it in the context of present health and strength.

While this is helpful advice for framing a journey to wholeness, it occurs to me that sometimes we tend to live by it in other moments. We sit with a friend sharing their pain and struggle, and it’s hard to know what to say. We are quick to offer advice. In our discomfort, we turn to reassurances that can grate in the thick of illness, loss, or transition: Be thankful for what you still have, or, God must have given you this struggle for a reason. It is uncomfortable to look directly at pain, our own and certainly others’. It can be uncomfortable to keep listening with full openness, not only for a whole conversation but sometimes over weeks, months, or years.

The passion narrative is practice for this kind of discomfort. It is the kind of story that Jesus’ friends and family must have found hard to talk about. It is hard to remember even now, looking directly at the pain of someone we love deeply. Exhausted and injured, Jesus fell under the weight of the cross. He would get up and continue under that weight. The road was still much longer.

This morning immigrant rights leader and New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC Executive Director Ravi Ragbir faced an ICE check-in and the possibility of immediate deportation or detention. He was accompanied by a crowd of supporters, people who love him and believe in his work. Ravi emerged from the check-in, and there was a collective sense of relief. Yet a month from now, he will be required to re-appear. This morning was part of a much longer road, marked by uncertainty, anxiety, and at times, pain. As Ravi makes us aware, many other undocumented people are on this same road.

In Jesus, we are not alone in struggle, even when it doesn’t move quickly to resolution. God does not turn away from our struggle or our pain, even when we are at our most broken, furthest from health and strength and even from God.  God does not turn away from us when the news makes us afraid that we or people we love will be deported, or alternatively, when it forces us to look directly at injustice for which we share responsibility. Instead, God walks with us, bearing our burdens and strengthening us to bear each other’s burdens.

– Aaron Miner

A View from the Sacristy: St. Luke the Evangelist Through the Symbol of the Ox

March 8, 2017 § 1 Comment

This week I want to explore Luke the evangelist through the symbol of the ox.

In the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of Paul it seems that an “evangelist” was, in the early days of the Church, a traveling missionary who went about preaching the Gospel, the account describing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  They often had a certain talent in preaching, and so would bring people to the faith and, once in the Christian community, the teachers and pastors would take on the work of explaining the mysteries of the faith. By the 2nd century, an “evangelist” came to mean what it means today – one of the writers of the four canonical Gospels.

In the first chapter of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, and the fourth chapter of the Revelation to John, we can find the description of a vision of the Holy One. In the vision from Ezekiel, there are four living creatures who draw the chariot of God and have fantastic form: human, but with four wings and four faces: a human face, a lion’s face, the face of an ox, and the face of an eagle. In the vision from Revelation, the four living creatures have one face, and six wings with eyes all around, even under the wings. The Christian community took these four living creatures as symbols of the four evangelists and their associated Gospels. In the Christian West, these symbols for the Evangelists were well established by the 4th century since St Jerome speaks of them in his Commentary on Matthew; although not everyone agrees with Jerome’s symbols, they are the most accepted interpretation.

 The four living creatures are also symbolic of the message of the specific Gospels for which they have become the symbol: The human as a symbol for the Gospel of Matthew suggests that this Gospel stresses Christ’s humanity with its genealogy and its Jesus who reacts in very human ways. The lion associated with the Gospel of Mark is appropriate since this Gospel begins with a “voice crying in the wilderness,” just a a lion would roar, and it also speaks to resurrection. There was an ancient belief that lions were born dead and brought to life by the growling and caresses of their mothers, and the Gospel of Mark concludes with the resurrection of Jesus. The ox associated with the Gospel of Luke fits well since it speaks to the great sacrifice of Jesus, and the ox was an important animal for sacrifice as required in the Torah. The eagle associated with the Gospel of John speaks to the heavenly Jesus that has come from the Father to dwell on earth and who will one day return to the Father

There is another traditional way to look at the four symbols of the evangelists, where the symbols are the height of creation in their different species: human beings are made in the image and likeness of God and so are the height of creation; the lion is the best of the wild animals and often called the King of Beasts; the ox is the beast of sacrifice and the most revered of the domestic animals; and the eagle is the best of the bird kingdom.

At St Luke’s we have St Luke’s ox on many of our sacred objects. Many of the oxen are very small and might never be noticed with a casual glance. Some are big and bold – the St Luke’s banner is the image of a gold-winged ox and is very large; we use this banner on St Luke’s Day.

The processional cross used during Lent has the symbols of the evangelists on the ends of the bars of the cross. We never really see these, as it is always covered by the Lenten Array when used at services. The large silver salver that we use to bring the offerings to the altar during the 11:15 Rite II Choral Eucharist on Sundays and on major feast days has the evangelists symbols on the rim (ask one of the ushers, but you’ll have to wait until Eastertide as we do not use this plate during Lent).

The festive Gospel Book cover (it shines like gold!) also has the four evangelists’ symbols on it, and we use this on feast days and the Great 50 Days of Easter (something else to look forward to seeing!).

The symbols of the evangelists also appear on the John Walsted icon processional cross we use during most of the year, Luke’s ox is right below Christ’s left hand (and again, you will have to wait until the Sunday after Ascension Day to see this ox).

Stay tuned and WATCH THIS SPACE for more tales of our patron Saint! We’re going to have a walk around the chapel next time! For Luke, actually, is all around.

– Sean Scheller

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