Feast of the Apostle and Evangelist Luke, October 18, 2015
Colossians 4:5-11, 14-18; Luke 10:16-21
Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
On the eighteenth of October we celebrate the holy apostle and evangelist Luke. His is one of those names we often hear in our services, but we may not know him unless we have taken the time to learn about him. Because today is his feast day, I wanted us to spend a little time getting to know him.
Luke wrote the third Gospel account, which is why he is called “the Evangelist” and which we begin reading from regularly in our services beginning in the latter part of September, and he also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, which functions as a kind of sequel to his Gospel. And that is probably why his name is most familiar to us. He may also be familiar to us as the first Christian iconographer, who painted at least one and possibly more icons of the Virgin Mary. He is thus often depicted as an iconographer, and he is the patron saint of iconographers.
Luke is one of the Apostles, but he is not one of the Twelve. He was not one of those close followers of Jesus. He knew Jesus personally, however, and was present at much of his teaching and his miracles. And when Jesus sent out Seventy Apostles (Luke 10:1) to preach the Gospel before His passion, two by two, Luke was among them. And as we heard in the Gospel reading today, the Seventy not only preached in Jesus’ name but even found that demons were subject to their prayers. And when they rejoiced in that miracle, Jesus told them that their rejoicing was best expressed not because of the exorcisms but because their names were written in heaven (Luke 10).
Luke was not a Jew, but rather a Greek from Antioch who heard of the teaching of Jesus and responded to Him by traveling from Antioch to Galilee. He was an educated man and a physician by trade, which makes him the patron saint also of doctors. He is called by Paul “the beloved physician” in our epistle reading for today from Colossians 4. Paul knew him well, because Luke journeyed with him and helped him in his missionary journeys. So his connection with Paul also connects him to us, since we have Paul as our patron.
He is also one of the two disciples encountered by Jesus on the road to Emmaus, along with St. Cleopas, another of the Seventy. And because we worship here in a town named for that original Emmaus, we have another connection with Luke. And it’s that connection that I would like to focus on especially today.
Christ’s encounter with Luke and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus is described by Luke himself in the twenty-fourth chapter of his Gospel. If you come to Matins on Sunday, you will have heard it many times. The Sunday Matins Gospels generally rotate through eleven different Gospels describing incidents after the resurrection of Jesus. The one with Christ on the road to Emmaus is the fifth one in the series.
In this Gospel Jesus comes upon Luke and Cleopas on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and He sees that they are sad. They do not recognize Him when they see Him. He asks them why they are sad, and they ask Him whether He is a stranger in Jerusalem and does not know about what happened to Jesus of Nazareth, Who had been condemned to death and crucified. They had hoped that He would be the One to redeem Israel. And they also said that some women of their company had amazed them, telling stories of seeing Jesus alive. And they tried to confirm the story, but they did not see Him themselves.
Jesus scolds them for their unbelief in the resurrection, and He begins to explain to them the meaning of the Old Testament prophecies concerning Himself.
They draw near to Emmaus, to the house which tradition says was the house of Cleopas, and since it was getting late, they invite Jesus to come and stay and eat with them. He comes into the house with them, and as they were sitting at the table, He broke bread and blessed it and gave it to them. Immediately, their eyes were opened, they recognized Him for Who He was, and He suddenly vanished out of their sight.
They testified how their hearts had “burned” within them while He had been talking to them on the road. And they immediately got up, went back to Jerusalem, and told the other disciples what they had seen, especially how He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
There are several things for us to note in this encounter between Jesus and today’s saint, Luke, along with Cleopas. One was that they did not recognize Him when they saw Him. Both had seen Him before, of course, before the passion. The Scriptures say that “their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” Was it because Jesus hid His identity in some way? Was it because they were focused on their own sadness and not on their love for God? The text does not say, but we do know that they were overcome with this feeling of calamity and that they were in a sense separated from true oneness with Jesus.
And this is an experience that we ourselves often have. We can be in the presence of Jesus, perhaps here in Church or somewhere else, and yet remain disconnected. It could be because God has decided to withdraw our sense of His presence so that we might reach more earnestly toward Him. Or it could be that we are so self-focused that we do not see Who is in front of us.
Jesus then begins to interpret the Scripture for them. They hadn’t made the connection between all the prophecies that they knew from the Old Testament and this Jesus of Nazareth Whom they knew in the flesh. And when He died, they thought that was the end, the end of their hope for redemption.
We also often fail to make the connection between what is going on in our lives and the redemption that Christ brings for us, and it is often because of our ignorance of the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church. We do not understand, because we have not prepared ourselves to understand. And so Jesus might say to us as He does to them: “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”
But see how Jesus is still merciful and loving to them. He journeys with them. He stays with them.
But then, the most powerful moment in this encounter: Jesus blesses the bread, breaks it and gives it to them. And then they see and believe.
This is a Eucharistic moment. This same sequence occurs for us every time we celebrate the Divine Liturgy together. The bread is blessed, broken and given to us. And we encounter the living, resurrected Christ, touching Him with our own bodies, receiving Him so that our hearts may also “burn within us” not only as we receive that Eucharist but also as we have the Scriptures explained to us, explained in such a way that they reveal Christ.
This revelation of the risen Jesus Christ that St. Luke received centuries ago and which he recorded for us himself is the same revelation available to us now, if we will open our hearts, see and believe.
We also can walk with the risen Jesus Christ. We also can hear from Him all the things in the Scriptures concerning Him. We also can know Him for Who He is in the Eucharistic blessing and breaking and eating of the bread. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, has made Himself available to us. God is not “out there” somewhere. We do not have to walk and be sad and self-focused like Luke and Cleopas, giving up all hope for happiness, for love, for goodness to win and evil to be defeated, for an end to suffering and pain—we can instead see Him and know Him and experience His warmth and closeness to us, as it was witnessed to us by the Apostle Luke.
And we have the beautiful blessing of being reminded of that wonderful encounter every time we remember the name of the place where we are right now.
To our Lord Jesus Christ be all glory, honor and worship, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.