The following is the text of my eulogy delivered at a Eucharist at the Parish Church of St Mary, Barton on Humber, on the Feast Day of St Luke, the 18th October 2014.
Today is the Feast Day of St Luke, and I consider it an honour and a privilege to have been asked to say a few words about the life and work of the man whose memory we now celebrate and for whose life we herewith give thanks.
That said, to some extent, Luke is, in historical terms, an enigma. We know relatively little about him as a person, and what we do know is gleaned from the writings of third parties or teased from the writings purported to be by Luke himself.
It is widely believed that he was born of Greek parents in the city of Antioch, Syria c.1 AD; Syria then being part of the Roman Empire.
· It is understood that Luke was a physician, as evidenced by the writing of St Paul and, as such, can probably take the title of the first Christian doctor.
· We know that he was most certainly a disciple of St Paul; accompanying him for large parts of his journeys and was with St Paul near to the time of Paul’s death in Rome.
· And we understand from early church historians that Luke was unmarried, without children, and died at the age of 84yrs, c. 84 AD; possibly as a martyr.
But Luke was much more than that potted bibliography. Once again, it is early historians who give us the sense that he had an ‘exceptional degree of holiness’, and was revered as a saint within the first few centuries AD. What is more, whilst the original texts were written anonymously, there is considerable evidence to indicate that the third and longest of the major Gospels of the Bible was written by St Luke, and that he was also the author of the Acts of the Apostles. His desire for anonymity is therefore a remarkable indication of his modesty, bearing in mind that together, St Luke’s Gospel (telling us of the origins, birth, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ) and the Acts of the Apostles (giving us the early history of the Christian Church) compose almost 25% of the New Testament. It is because of these writings that Luke is known as one of the four Evangelists, whose work ‘proclaimed the good news – the gospel of Jesus’; and it is from St Luke’s Gospel, and only from his Gospel, that we receive some of our most loved stories, such as The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son.
And it doesn’t end there, for Luke was also:
· An artist – who, it is claimed, painted some 600 icons as well as paintings of Mary with Jesus as a baby.
· And he was a poet – for his work has led directly to such beautiful works as the Nunc dimittis.
So, what relevance does the life of St Luke have for us over two thousand years later? What message does he give to us that is as important in the 21st century as it was in earliest years of the Christian church?
Obviously, he tells us of the life of Christ and indeed about St Paul. However, there is much about the life and character of Luke himself that can still teach us a great deal in today’s world.
First, through the style of his writing, we know that Luke, as an educated man, did not look down on artisans, for his writing reminds us that those involved in manual work are equally worthy of our respect; prompting us to be mindful that all men and women are equal.
Secondly, St Luke, the evangelist, physician, writer, theologian, poet, artist, and historian – St Luke the polymath - should remind us that we all have multiple gifts bestowed upon us by God, and that, by using Luke as our exemplar, we should make use of all our individual gifts to further God’s work in the service of human kind and to assist in the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, he reminds us that to be whole persons, we must take care to heal both the body and the soul, and that such healing cannot come about through science and medicine alone, but in combination with the many arts, and not least of all, theology. One of his most famous lines is from Luke 19:10, where he writes ‘For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost’. From his life’s work, I suggest that the phrase could equally be applied to St. Luke himself, whom St Paul may well have called an Anam Cara, or Soul Friend; a doctor of the soul who, if he were alive today, would probably be known as a spiritual director.
St Luke is symbolised by a winged ox or bull – figures of strength, sacrifice and service - and in recognition that St Luke sacrificed himself and his life in following Christ. Today we give thanks for his life and work; a life that should remind us that all Christians, even in the 21st Century, are called upon to do likewise, living and working our lives in the name of Christ; and for which, the emulation of St Luke is a good starting point. For, although we are not all called to be physicians, we can all be healers in a troubled world.