Game of Thrones

 

When Princess Elizabeth became Queen in 1952 and particularly around the time of the Coronation a year later there was a renewal of interest in the first Elizabethan age. It was a selective reading of that time, of course: people weren’t interested in the squalor or the political uncertainty of those times but revelled in the majesty and confidence of the epoch.

 

In the first couple of chapters of Luke’s gospel, we are in an olde-worlde setting and we are treated to a selective re-reading of the Old Testament as the main themes of the whole book are set out in one place.

 

Once a year, I get a chance to play the piano for a choir in St Briavels on the fringe of the Forest of Dean when the conductor goes on holiday. This year, they were doing HMS Pinafore and I was a bit nervous as I sat down to practise because it’s not a Gilbert and Sullivan opera I know well. That feeling turned to relief as I played through the first act, though, because I found I knew much of the music already because I had a record of the overture as a teenager. Many of the main tunes are set out in one go: there will be new tunes but at least the audience can hum along to something they recognise. The first two chapters of Luke are like an overture – there will be new material aplenty but much that will be familiar from the beginning.

 

There are four big speeches given by Zechariah, Mary, the Christmas angels and the aged Simeon in the Jerusalem Temple. They are often called by their Latin names – Benedictus, Magnificat, Gloria and Nunc Dimittis – and the theme of each of them is promise and fulfilment. God made promises in the Old Testament which are fulfilled in Christ and this is done by the creative power of the Holy Spirit which is emphasised in every part of the story.

 

So, just as the Spirit of God brooded over the waters in Genesis, God’s creative power makes life from old people like Elizabeth and Zechariah, the parents of John the Baptist and even from nothing in the case of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Similarly, God intervenes in the sacrificial system gone stale and brings a new word to the aged priest, Zechariah. There is even an echo of the garden of Eden as Zechariah questions God’s message just as Adam and Eve did. It takes a Mary to open the way to the future by an open acceptance and availability to that new word.

 

The fact that it is Mary who is the first to react in that way is significant, as is the content of what she says. If we thought Christianity was all about men, exploitation, money, luxury and power, here is a rebuttal in the first few pages of Luke.

 

A woman is the first to speak and she channels the few female voices in the Old Testament rising from the clamour of patriarchy to sing of God’s justice for the downtrodden. Mary is Ruth and Hannah, she is Deborah and Myriam and she sings the song of reversals and the world upside down. Her theme is God’s concern for the humble and his preference for working with ordinary people rather than those at the top however that is interpreted in our context.

 

In his overture, Luke sets out his themes. As we go through the gospel we will meet the waiting faithful, the powerless and excluded and those of little worth in the eyes of the world. They will meet Jesus – or in some cases Jesus will tell their tale – and they will find their voice and their place in Church history. If the theme of this overture is promise and fulfilment, the gospel as a whole will show the outworking of that.

 

In one church where I served there were three fancy chairs which were set out for the minister and two members of the leadership team at the communion service. Two of them were ornate and meant to convey status in the Fellowship but they were as nothing compared with the minister’s throne with its cushions and carved back and armrests. Sometimes, when I remembered to do it, I would replace it just before the service with an ordinary chair from the back room. I was making a point about ministry as service, of course, but as I went on looking at Luke’s gospel I began to think of this action as a picture of the gospel as a whole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published by Rob -