St James the Great
Today we celebrate our patronal festival, and give thanks to God for his Saint and Martyr St James the Great. And we continue to commend to St James’s care and prayers this Church and its life as part of the continuing witness to God’s grace in this village.
James son of Zebedee and Salome, styled the Great to distinguish him from St James the less, most likely as he was the taller, was the brother of the beloved disciple John, and is distinguished among the Apostles by being the only one whose martyrdom is recorded in the NT in Acts 12.22 – put to the sword by Herod Agrippa in a crack down on members of the early church at the behest of fearful Jewish leaders.
His parents seem to have been people of means. Zebedee, his father, was a fisherman of the Sea of Galilee, who probably lived in or near Bethsaida, perhaps in Capearnaum; and had some boatmen or hired men. Salome, his mother, was one of the pious women who afterwards followed Christ and "ministered unto him of their substance," and his brother John was personally known to the high-priest, and must have had wherewithal to provide for the Mother of Jesus – his brother and mother waited with Our Lady at the foot of the Cross and were entrusted with her care by Jesus from the Cross.
Scripture records James and his brother as among the first to follow Jesus, called while standing beside the seashore with their father. James was one of only 3 disciples present and witness to the Transfiguration of Our Lord . He and his brother were reputed to have fiery tempers, and were rebuked by Jesus for wishing to call down fire on a Samaritan town, and both had the early nickname of Boanerges – ‘sons of thunder’,- indeed his short temper may have been the reason for his early martyrdom, bringing him to the attention of Herod.
James is the patron Saint of Spain, his remains according to legend held in Sanitago de Compostella the amazing cathedral holding the world’s largest thurible – it needs silver spades to load, if only Alfred could get his hands on that one none of us would get out of her alive! Famously the route to the cathedral, the Comino has been since the Middle Ages a route of pilgrimage, and still today thousands wear the scallop shell and make varying lengths of this potentially 2,500 mile route from the shrine of St Edmund in Canterbury to Spain, crossing the Alps and passing many important sites in European Christian history. Sadly I went on Easy Jet, but one day I want to make the journey, and add my name to those who have sought spiritual renewal and growth in the great pilgrimage of the Comino.
The comino, indeed the practice of pilgrimage is an interesting addition to what we were saying last week about the tension some see in religious terms between stillness and activity. Since the early Middle Ages people have formally gone on visits to holy places and shrines with a definite spiritual purpose. And importantly it is the journeying every bit as much as the arrival which is important. In times past when it was so much harder to get anywhere these journeys required sacrifice, time away from work in a world where holidays were unheard of, and where there was no holiday pay. Roads were notional, dangers abounded and for the majority as Chaucer’s Canterbury tales illustrate, pilgrimage was on foot and hard work. During these times away from their usual worlds people had chance, to think whilst walking and travelling, to devote time to their spiritual purpose and needs, times away from the drudge that everyday life could and can be. Stillness and activity combine on pilgrimage, and we can come to see our lives, especially our Christian lives as in every way a pilgrimage from cradle to grave, from baptism to last rites. Life is in Christian tradition seen as a pilgrimage, and we pilgrims together on the road from God back to God. I find it very helpful to imagine life this way, for it has a deep feel of something that continues, of something that is neither done nor meant to be done alone. And encouragingly it shows the busy both the value in setting aside time to address the spiritual dimension of our shared journey, but importantly that spirituality can inevitably for most exists perfectly well alongside a real life, lived with all its commitments and pressures.
Along life’s journeys many will influence us, many impress and inspire us, and the sense that we do not travel alone or without companions is the reality of the communion of Saints on earth and in heaven. So as we give thanks for St James the Great, let’s also give thanks for our own journey in Christ, and pray for those who journey with us, those we see and those who have gone before us to glory.