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

Scripture Reflection — Luke 3:1-6

December 7, 2012 § 1 Comment

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'” 
-Luke 3:1-6

This isn’t exactly a reflection on Luke 3:1-6, a third of which is taken up by a gorgeously overwrought date. It is a reflection on the use of Isaiah in Luke 3:1-6.

 I tend to picture John the Baptist as the guy from the Jesus of Nazareth movie, with bangs that cover his eyes, shouting at a noisy mob about how God doesn’t delight in their sacrifices. In fact, eventually Luke will select as John’s first words, “Brood of vipers!” But already, I expect a harsh prophet, because preaching repentance tends to come with a warning, an implied threat: if you do not repent, something bad will happen. For example, you might wake up one day and regret your life. Your relationships might suffer. You might get cut down with an ax or burned with unquenchable fire. Or, and this brings me to Isaiah, you and everyone you know and love might get sent into captivity following the destruction of your city and temple.

 So it is striking that in providing his interpretive lens for the sayings of John that follow, Luke does not draw from a prophecy of warning. He draws from the opening of Second Isaiah, which promises the end of exile:

 Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term.

This is what the voice is urging us to prepare the way for, in an emotional tone that is generous, bordering on giddy: God is going to lead a new Exodus. Not only will the desert be blasted into a highway, but when the poor and needy are thirsty, it will become a pool of water (Is 41:17-18).

 What does it mean to prepare a highway for God’s liberation? This question seems like it should lend itself easily to inspiring answers, but John’s ideas are ringing hollow for me today. As Luke describes him, he leaves more questions than answers. Suddenly I wonder if I’ve always simply assumed on some level that I knew what phrases like this – prepare the way, bring about the kingdom, God’s liberation – meant. John might urge us to strip (or cut, or burn) these assumptions from our minds, to be filled with expectation, and to meet Jesus as a new person.

– Aaron Miner

First Emmanuel Station: The Annunciation

December 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

Annunciation IconFor the longest time I have struggled with Mary, Virgin Mother of God. It’s seemed to me that Mary got a bad deal. When I would read or pray Luke’s account (Luke 1:26-38) of the Annunciation, the word “bear” stood out to me. What a burden it was to be told that she would bear the child of God. Mary responds graciously to the angel’s news, but what choice did she really have when told that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and the power of the Most High overshadow her? The angel doesn’t leave much room for Mary to refuse.

 On my pilgrimage to the Holy Land last January I visited the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. Facing the altar, at the back of the congregation, is a large icon of Mary as the Burning Bush that confronts Moses (Ex 3:1-22). In this and similar icons, Mary appears to Moses as the Theotokos, the God-bearer. Like the burning bush, Mary is on fire with the task of bringing the Word of God into the world. Like the bush, Mary is not consumed. She burns but she does not burn up.

 As I meditated on that icon, I began to understand Mary and the Annunciation differently. Rather than being a sweet, innocent, virginal girl who meekly bows to the will of God, Mary is a powerful woman who burns with a love of God and who has the strength to accept the pain and the grief that always go hand in hand with the joy and peace of accepting God’s invitation to bring forth the Word. Mary’s supposedly meek and mild “be it unto me according to thy Word,” expresses a willingness to have her heart broken so that Love can enter the world. Mary can be for all us a witness to the strength required of us to say “yes” to God, to agree to burn with God’s love. This task is a painful one, but if we accept it willingly, aware of the cost, like Mary we may also bring the Word of grace and love into the world.

– Will Owen

Lenten Reflection: Praying the Daily Office

February 29, 2012 § 3 Comments

Many years ago, I decided to try to “take on” something for Lent rather than give something up. Not that I was ever a good giver-upper—abstinence and sacrifice are not among my strong suits. In any event, one Lent a long time ago (under the guidance of the Spirit, I now realize), I decided to start reading and praying the daily office of Morning Prayer as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. All I needed were a Bible and a Prayer Book. I think in those days I used the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, although I have since moved on to a variety of translations of both the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian scriptures.

The structure of the office, in both morning and evening, includes an opening rite which can be modified in several ways, the psalm or psalms appointed for that day, a reading from the Old Testament or Apocrypha, a canticle (a song from scripture or from the early church), a reading from the New Testament, followed by another canticle, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and other prayers, and a closing. The whole thing takes about twenty or twenty-five minutes.

Since I began this “taking on,” I realize that I have rarely missed a day in what has now become a morning ritual and part of the rhythm of my life. I find myself following the same pattern, whether in a favorite chair in my apartment, sitting in a hotel room and looking out the window at an unfamiliar landscape, visiting family here or in Italy, or on the deck of a beach house on Fire Island. There is usually a cup of coffee in my morning time with God, although I don’t start sipping it until the first reading.

Since I’m praying by myself, I omit things like “The Lord be with you. And also with you.” They of course don’t make any sense outside of a communal context. And I also ignore the “posture rubrics” about sitting and standing and kneeling.  When a person is praying Morning or Evening Prayer alone, a different rhythm emerges, one that is unique to that person. I find, for example, that some of the appointed prayers have become so familiar that I sometimes breathe them without articulating the text (“a sigh too deep for words”). And at the point where other intercessions are allowed, I offer my own prayers—prayers for my family and other loved ones, both living and dead; prayers for people I don’t know (I’m in the St. Luke’s online prayer group); and prayers for myself, as I delight in or grapple with my steps on the trail of my earthly pilgrimage.

And, oh yes, the Bible readings. The Bible readings! The appointed readings in the two-year cycle have given me untold knowledge and treasures, which I have visited again and again over the years. The daily office lectionary in the Prayer Book covers all of the New Testament and huge amounts of the Hebrew scriptures, and a person praying twice a day will pray the entire Psalter in seven weeks. Or the Psalter can be covered in fourteen weeks if praying once a day; use the evening psalms in the second seven weeks if praying in the morning, or vice versa.

Many things have happened in my life since I began praying the daily office: Many people whom I loved (and still love) have died, and many have been born. I have dealt with the fearful challenge of being down-sized out of a job and not knowing what was coming next.  I am now dealing with the unexpected challenges of living into the new paradigm of retirement and creating a new structure for my life. There are moments of great joy in my daily time in prayer, but there can also be moments of anxiety, grief, and doubt. Jesus reminds us, especially in Lent, that the wilderness experience and the Good Friday moments are part of our humanity.

I am thankful for my daily prayer journey, even when the Sprit takes me places I wouldn’t have chosen to go, were I in control. I wouldn’t give up this journey for anything in the world, and I commend it to anyone who wants to “take on” something in this Lenten season.

—Frank  Tedeschi

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