This Tuesday, the 18th of October, is the feast day of St. Luke the Physician and Evangelist and so I am reposting this sonnet in his honour, especially as, in our lectionary, this is the year when all our Gospel readings are taken from his gospel. This poem comes from Sounding the Seasons, my series of sonnets for the church year. My sonnets, in that series, present the four Evangelists together and the imagery in those sonnets is influenced by the images of the four living creatures round the throne of God and the tradition that each of these creatures represents both an aspect of Christ and one of the four Evangelists.
‘...since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sitteth upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit. ‘ St. Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 120-202 AD) – Adversus Haereses 3.11.8
For a good account of this tradition click here. I am drawing my inspiration both from the opening page image of each Gospel in the Lindesfarne Gospels and also from the beautiful account of the four living creatures given by St. Ireneus, part of which I quote above. As well as being himself a Physician, and therefore the patron saint of doctors and all involved in healing ministry, Luke is also the patron of artists and painters. His gospel seems to have a particular connection with those on the margins of his society. In Luke we hear the voices of women more clearly than in any other gospel, and the claims and hope of the poor in Christ find a resonant voice.
As always you can hear the poem by clicking the ‘play’ button if it appears or clicking on the title of the poem. The photographer Margot Krebs Neale has again provided a thought-provoking photograph to interpret the poem, in this case one taken by her son Oliver. The book with these sonnets was published by Canterbury Press and is available from all the usual Amazons etc.
His gospel is itself a living creature
A ground and glory round the throne of God,
Where earth and heaven breathe through human nature
And One upon the throne sees it is good.
Luke is the living pillar of our healing,
A lowly ox, the servant of the four,
We turn his page to find his face revealing
The wonder, and the welcome of the poor.
He breathes good news to all who bear a burden
Good news to all who turn and try again,
The meek rejoice and prodigals find pardon,
A lost thief reaches paradise through pain,
The voiceless find their voice in every word
And, with Our Lady, magnify Our Lord.
6 responses to “A Sonnet for St. Luke’s Day”
Malcolm: I deeply appreciate your emails and books. Thank-you. I’m contributing a devotional to the Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts at Biola University during the Advent Season. My devotional will be published on 26 December and is focusing on Stephen’s martyrdom. I understand that your poem concerning St. Stephen will be available also on that day. Would it be possible for you to send me this poem so that I might read it and incorporate thoughts from it in my devotional comments? Thank you so very much. By the way—while I don’t expect you to remember me, we did meet at the CIVA conference held at Biola a few years ago. I have followed you and been blessed by your writings since that time.
Dianne B. Collard
Dear Diane yes I’d be happy to do that. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send it to you
I was once the curate at St Luke’s Birmingham so I am thinking of them in my prayers today.
I also once taught Luke’s Gospel to a class of highly intelligent students in Zambia in a boys secondary school. We had been reading it together for a while and I really had not sought to draw attention to this but one day a boy raised his hand and anxiously asked, “What has Jesus got against rich people?” I did not have an adequate response that day and the question continues to challenge me today.
What an interesting and telling story!
Thanks for posting this sonnet. It is one of my favourites of all your sonnets and at present Luke’s Gospel is my favourite of all the gospels, for the reason you give in your sonnet, “the voiceless find their voice in every word…”