Homily given by Bishop Irenei of London and Western Europe in the Diocesan Cathedral, London, 18 / 31 October 2021: the day of the commemoration of St Luke the Apostle and Evangelist.
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit!
My dear brothers and sisters:
On this day on which we honour the holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke, we hear words drawn from his own account of the Holy Gospel, regarding the return to Christ of the Seventy Apostles, whom the Lord had sent out to minister in His Name. St Luke recounts for us that they returned to Him with exceeding joy, noting that ‘even the demons are subject to us in Thy name’ (Luke 10.17); and indeed, Christ had bestowed upon them this very power: to cast out demons, to cast away Satan, to trample down enemies, to heal the sick. And as the Holy Apostles discover the reality of the power that God has put in their hands — the power to participate in His own proper glory, the power over nature and over evil that the Lord Himself demonstrates, and which He gives to the Apostles, in the Church, as a gift of healing and mercy — as they begin to behold this power directly, they are overwhelmed and filled with awe and joy.
And it is precisely at this moment that the Lord turns to them and says, in the words recorded by today’s St Luke: ‘Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven’ (Luke 10.20). ‘Rejoice not in the power that I have given you,’ Christ is saying. ‘Rejoice not in the fact that from your hands comes grace to heal the sick, even though this is real. Rejoice not in the fact that I, having chosen you and laid my hands upon you, have bestowed a grace by which you might aid the world in overcoming all the powers of darkness and sin, and even the devil himself — even though all these things are true. No, do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you; rejoice, instead, that your names are written in heaven.’
“St Luke, beloved of God and one of the greatest of all the Apostles … on the day dedicated to his honour, is memorialised with precisely these words that he penned down from the life of Christ: ‘Rejoice because your names are written in heaven.’“
What a blessing it is, that the Church has selected this particular text for the day on which that we honour the holy Apostle and Evangelist. St Luke, beloved of God and one of the greatest of all the Apostles, from whose pen we know so many of the words of our Saviour, and whose closeness to the Mother of God permitted him to record elements of her life, and the life of her Son with her, that come to us from no other; this same Luke, who saw all the power of God, who beheld Christ in His full glory — the glory of the Cross, the glory of the Resurrection — this same St Luke, who was sent out into the world in order to become a missionary and Apostle himself of the Saviour; this man whose life was witness to glory and grace beyond that which eye had seen or ear had heard in all the generations of mankind prior to his day; this man, when he is memorialised in the Church, on the day dedicated to his honour, is memorialised with precisely these words that he penned down from the life of Christ: ‘Rejoice because your names are written in heaven.’
This is the very substance of our Christian hope: not that we might make demonstrations in the world of power and strength, not that we might simply have authority over the devil, but that we, broken and fragile, sinful creatures, may yet have our own names written in the book of life. This is the hope, the real hope, of all the ages; and this is the joy, the real joy, of a Christian heart — that despite all the circumstances of this life and this world, the Lord sees fit to call us His own. Despite the fact that man abandons God constantly through his forgetfulness, sinfulness, arrogance and pride; despite the fact that we do not remember His Name in moments of life when it is easier to forget than to recall, this same Christ does not forget ours. This Christ takes our names and inscribes them in His book — inscribes them, as the holy Prophet Isaias once said, on the very palm of His hand (cf. Isaias 43, 49), that He might have us ever with Him. In all that He does in governing the universe, with each new life that He creates, with the whole unfolding of history over which He is Lord and God, at every moment this Lord has our name inscribed on His hand, in His heart, in His Kingdom!
“In all that He does in governing the universe, with each new life that He creates, with the whole unfolding of history over which He is Lord and God, at every moment this Lord has our name inscribed on His hand, in His heart, in His Kingdom!”
And so, Rejoice! the holy Evangelist says to us in the words of his Saviour and ours. Rejoice in this fact above all! For it is true, yes, that in His Church the Lord has given power and grace. It is true that through the ministrations of the Church the devil falls and spirits are subject to their Lord. It is true that through the hands of priests and through the prayers of every pious believer darkness may be overcome and a light may shine more brightly in this world. All these things are true, and they are gifts for which we are to be thankful! And yet, says Christ, do not rejoice in these things. Do not make them the substance of your joy. Do not become superstitious, revelling in wonders and seeking signs, looking ever for the miraculous and esoteric. When God so chooses to act, He will act; when those actions ought to be miraculous, so they shall be. But find your joy in the fact that, in all of this wonder, in all of this sacredness, your name, yours, is written in heaven. Your life, yours, is precious to the One Who works miracles. Your name is on His lips!
In this, my brothers and sisters, the holy Apostle today instructs us to find our true joy. May we listen to him! May we hear him. And may we claim a true and Christian joy all the days of our life.