“And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God. Acts 2:7-11
This passage of Holy Scripture has always intrigued me, but perhaps not in the way most would think. Sure, the list of ancient regions and nations is interesting, but what is most curious is the way the writer speaks of “we” and “them,” and with whom reader most closely associates.
|Drawing detail. (Copyright © Edward Riojas)|
On the other hand, we are not at all the “we” of whom the writer speaks. In fact, Gentiles were not yet part of the equation – that would not happen in the narrative until later in the Book of Acts.
It is probably a good exercise, however, to occasionally insert ourselves, along with the rest of the world, into the passage in the stead of extinct places like Pontus and Pamphylia. For Lutherans of European stock, it allows us to see how large the world is, and how small we really are. We might read the same passage thus:
‘...How is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Saxons and Thuringians and Bavarians and residents of Baden-Württenberg, Bavaria and Bremen...’
Yes, we were outsiders, too, but by God’s Grace considered worthy of the Kingdom, and ultimately heirs by adoption. What is more, we should remind ourselves that the Gospel was established in other places much earlier than Europe. Which brings us to Michael the Deacon.
In a curious event that is rarely discussed in Lutheran circles, Martin Luther once entertained Michael the Deacon, of the then-Ethiopian Coptic Church, who traveled to Wittenberg to meet the Reformer. The two compared the Lutheran Mass and the Mass used by Ethiopian Orthodoxy and found that they were in agreement with each other. Michael even declared that Luther’s Articles of Faith were “a good creed.” Apparently, the Lutheran Church then extended full communion to the Ethiopian Church – a far cry from the goings-on in Rome. The consequences of that meeting may indeed have been more far-reaching than what history records.
What is also curious is the fact that there is no visual documentation of the meeting. Perhaps Lucas Cranach was on sabbatical. Maybe the artist was ill. What is more likely is that the meeting was so brief as to exclude time for a portrait sitting.
I found but one image online – and that was created but one year ago – commemorating the meeting. For years I have had the urge to recreate the event as a painting. For months now a drawing has been languishing on a drawing board, awaiting its final execution. Unfortunately, it will have to wait a bit longer as large projects pile up in front of me. I do think, however, that the drawing is developed enough for a preview, which is below.
The time is long overdue to commemorate this event, even if it must come from my own hand. Certainly, it is high time to recognize that the 1.5 million confirmed members of the LCMS do not comprise the bulk of confessional Lutherans worldwide, let alone confessional Christians worldwide. It is fitting that, on the eve of All Hallows, we thank the Lord for having poured out His Spirit far beyond those first disciples, and on the likes of Athanasius of Alexandria [Northern Africa], Cyprian of Carthage [Northern Africa], Michael the Deacon [Ethiopia], Martin Luther, and the great host of those who have gone before us with the sign of the Cross. It is also fitting to rejoice over those saints, this side of heaven, who live in every tiny corner of the globe – yes, even the 25 MILLION Lutherans living in, of all places, Africa.
|Preparatory drawing for "Michael the Deacon and Martin Luther" (Copyright © Edward Riojas)|