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by Cary Branscum
How will you be remembered? By the marker placed at the head of the grave where you will lie down for your last long rest? By the etched words on an urn full of ash?
Most folks want to leave their mark on this old world. Somehow, somewhere, most of us want to be remembered by someone. Now clearly this is certainly not a universal desire. Some folks dont think about it; theyre too busy just living today. Others honestly dont care to be remembered. On the other hand, political officials and others who occupy lofty positions often talk about leaving a legacy. However, most folks want their life to matter. They want their time on earth to count.
What about you? How do you want to be remembered?
Sometimes, we are remembered in ways we could not have imagined while alive! A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran an article about DNA testing done on a body in an ancient lead coffin in Padua, Italy. It is purported to be the body of Luke, the writer of both Luke and Acts in the New Testament. The DNA analysis does not give any evidence that would deny this belief. The true identity of the body in the coffin is not the most interesting thing about this story. The most interesting thing about this story are all the ways people seek to preserve what is important or sacred.
Lets say the body is that of Luke. If so, the body has travelled more in death than in life. Tradition says Luke died at age 84 in 150 A.D. in the city of Thebes. His coffin was taken to Constantinople, then to Padua Italy no later than 1177 A.D. It was then placed in the Basilica of Santa Giustina. In 1992, an Orthodox church in Thebes wanted part of the body to be donated to the site of Lukes tomb in Thebes.
In 1998, the coffin seals were broken for the first time in 400 years. There was a skeleton, but no skull! The researchers found a tooth in the floor of the coffin, and did the DNA test on that. It was dated at about the time Luke would have been alive. But what about the head?
Research shows the bodys head was removed in 1354 and taken to Prague, where it now rests in the Cathedral of St. Vitus. (St. Vitus, by the way, is also the name of an illness that causes its sufferers to rhythmically jerk around. It is called St. Vitus Dance, but this is nothing to worry Lukes head about.) But wait, there is another Lukes head in Rome! For a time, there was some controversy over which head was genuine. The one in Prague matches up with the skeleton in the lead coffin, so it is assumed to be genuine. But is it Luke or isnt it? Just because the body and head match doesnt mean they belonged to Luke, the beloved physician and the companion of the Apostle Paul. The jury is still out.
Sometimes religious relics help people focus their faith on God. In this way, they can be of some assistance in our faith journey. At the same time, great time and effort can go into preserving things in useless or even harmful ways.
What is Lukes real heritage for all of us today? Is it the ancient bones in a lead coffin or is it in the Living Word of his gospel? Is Luke to be praised, or would he want us to praise the One of whom he wrote?
If Luke could have seen the future of his body, how would he have written to Theophilus (Luke 1:3) about it? O Theophilus, you would not believe what I have become. My body was my earthly tent, but it is being tested and tried even into the distant future. My bones rest in a church in Italy, while my head is in Prague, or Rome, Im not even sure which! My body receives a reverence I sought not for myself even in life. And oh yes, Ive lost a tooth! No matter, the Lord will restore all when He returns. A warning: Beware of my coffin when that Day comes. And above all, you... be ready yourself for that Day.
We dont know much about the body in the coffin. We are blessed to know Luke through the greatest legacy anyone can pass to others, the Gospel of Jesus! Luke will always be remembered as one who pointed others to Jesus Christ, no matter what the DNA tests prove about the old body in a leadened box. Lukes gospel tells us of the love of Jesus for the marginal, the outcast, the disenfranchised. Lukes gospel so clearly shows Jesus reaching out and including those who are truly lost, and giving love and hope to those who need it most.
Can there be a better heritage? How can there be a better way to be remembered? Is there any more permanent heritage than passing on the faith to others? When your life is over, and your body is gone, how will you be remembered?
Most honorable Theophilus: Many people have written accounts about the events that took place among us. They used as their source material the reports circulating among us from the early disciples and other eyewitnesses of what God has done in fulfillment of his promises. Having carefully investigated all of these accounts from the beginning, I have decided to write a careful summary for you, to reassure you of the truth of all you were taught. (Luke 1:1-4, NLT)
Author: Cary Branscum
Publication Date: November 27, 2001
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