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Vessels By Plenitude Of Grace – Br. Sean Glenn

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“Br.Feast of Sts. Simon and Jude, Apostles
Deuteronomy 32:89–96
Ephesians 2:13–22
John 15:17–27

Today the church remembers that, in the words of W. H. Auden,

Without arms or charm of culture,
Persons of no importance
From an unimportant Province,
They did as the Spirit bid,
Went forth into a joyless world
Of swords and rhetoric
To bring it joy.
[1]   

Today the church remembers the apostles Simon and Jude. Scripture tells us little about these two figures, but the church has maintained a handful of robust traditions about them. From Scripture we know of Simon only that he was one of the disciples, called “the Zealot.” Whether this means he was a member of one of the various first century sectarian movements who bore the title “zealots,” or simply a person of great zeal for the gospel, we cannot be sure (though, I suspect the latter is more likely).[2]

John tells us of Jude’s presence at the Last Supper. The Epistle of Jude, according to one school, may be the work of the disciple Jude, the brother of James the Greater.[3] He is often attributed the surname Thaddeus to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot.

Traditions variously cast Simon and Jude as apostles to Persia and martyrs, and the Western Church generally accepts this. We do find a conflicting claim, however, in The Monology of Basil, which tells that Simon died a peaceful death at Edessa. Jude, given his surname, has sometimes been confused with another Thaddeus, also said to have died a quiet death.[4]

Jacopo de Fazio’s The Golden Legend records a rich hagiography of the two and we find there litanies of names by which each has been known: “Simon, that is obedient”; “Simon Zelotes; Simon Cananean of Cana (a street that in Galilee where Christ converted the water into wine.)” A “holy man,” the Legendreports, exercising “obedience of the commandments by execution, heaviness by pity of torment, and had love of souls by firm ardor of love.” [5]

“[Jude],” the Legend records, “is as much to say as confessing or glorious; or [Jude] is as much to say as giving joy. For he had confession of faith, glory of reign, and glory of the everlasting joy.” Then follows another litany of names: “Judas James, Thaddeus, Thadee, Thadea, Lebbaeus.” Thaddeus, The Legend says, “is a vesture and of Deus, that is God, for he was vesture royal of God by ornament of virtues, by which he took Christ the prince.” Many of his other appellations speak of great spiritual presence: “worshipper of heart, a vessel of heart by great hardiness, a worshipper of heart by purity, a vessel by plenitude of grace.”[6]

Doubtless, these traditions have fed many. De Fazio records signs of devotion to these two saints known for love of souls, obedience, ardor of love, joy, hardiness, and a pure worship of the heart, “vessels by plenitude of grace.”

Two vessels of the robust divine love for the very world Christ had warned would hate them. Whether or not they were martyred, the traditions that bear their memory and the gospel before us today speak a strain of martyrdom—or, at the very least, of the myriad deaths we shall all encounter as sojourners in Christ. We must never forget that this is a dimension of our life as baptized persons. We make our pilgrimage through a world that does not know us because it does not know the one who sends us into a joyless world of swords and rhetoric / to bring it joy.[7]

We seldom face the contexts that would place us on the road to a physical martyrdom. It may be good for us to remember, however, that we still face decisions that have the power to put us in grave danger were the circumstances different. Likewise, we ought to summon in ourselves a presence of heart that holds before God the painful reality of those around the world who daily stand to witness before powers and principalities with the loss of their social credibility, their rights, privileges, and freedoms, and even their lives.

These realities may seem distant to us, but Jesus reminds us that the path we follow with him is not free from them, nor are they distant from the heart of the Father.

‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.[8]

Whether within the fabric of our individual circumstances, or in the world around us, I imagine relatives of these hardships visit many of us.

This, no doubt, bears heavily on many of our spirits. How do we hear these words of Jesus when we set to the hard task of prayerfully following him—and only him—in a world that may begin to demand more of us? A world where we may have to ardently refuse what is being demanded of us?

What can we make of it when we begin truthfully to behold the world before us, where our own siblings in the Father’s vine face the very hatred Christ warns us of today? Where a spray of bullets speaks into a holy sanctuary the horrifying will of one enslaved by darkness? When the powers and principalities of the world seem to delight in delivering, for a price, the implements of such hatred into the hands of a lost and groaning world? Where those who vowed to uphold the public good seek instead to violate the public trust and hoard the treasures snatched from the hands of those who labor for them? Where our heads of state recommend we arm ourselves while at worship?[9]

Surely, O believer, you must be scandalized by all of this.

Are we right to be scandalized? Certainly, the evil we encounter in the world should scandalize us—but we, like the saints, should not be scandalized or ashamed by God’s love for that world for even a moment. The world will tell us that such a love is impossible, too paradoxical, utterly unbelievable. To the logic of the world, such love is foolishness, met with cynicism, loathing, and ridicule.

Jesus has already told us this would be the case. It is our task as members of his Body to do the prayerful work of loving the aching, distressed creation he has come to save and transform—even when it lashes out at us. This is the exercise of sainthood, for to go on fighting hatred with hatred is to continue enslaved by its derangement.

The saintly lives we recall to mind witness that Christ has truly dealt sin, death, and hatred their final blow. We are to be reassured of this in the Spirit as we minister, like Simon and Jude, to the wounded world we inhabit. We are in Christ, he has welcomed us as his friends,[10] and by his love for us and among us, the lashings and tortures inflicted upon us (and within us) by the world will not destroy us. He is our peace; in his flesh he has […] broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us, [reconciling us] to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. He came and proclaimed peace to you who were are off and those who were near; for through him [we all] have access in one Spirit to the Father.[11]

Teach us, Lord, like Simon to be a lover of souls that we may love this aching world you love so much. Make us, Lord, like Jude to be a vessel by plenitude of grace[12] that your love may transform our pains and anguish, and those of the world. May we, like them, without arms or the charm of culture, go forth into a joyless world of swords and rhetoric to bring it joy.[13]


[1]Wystan Hugh Auden, The Twelve

[2]It is difficult for me to grant that Simon would have remained identified with any sectarian movement to which he had been partied following his conversion, especially since these often emphasized a rigorous practice of the Law.

[3]Holy Women Holy Men, 654.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Jacopo de Fazio (c. 1230 – 13 or 16 July 1298) The Golden Legend. De Fazio was an Italian chronicler and archbishop of Genoa. He was the author, or more accurately the compiler, of Legenda Aurea, the Golden Legend, a collection of the legendary lives of the greater saints of the medieval church that was one of the most popular religious works of the Middle Ages.

[6]Jacopo de Fazio The Golden Legend

[7]From W. H. Auden “The Twelve”

[8]John 15:18-21. New Revised Standard Version.

[9]https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/28/us/arming-houses-of-worship/index.html

[10]John 15:14

[11]Paraphrase of Ephesians 2:14, 16-18

[12]The Golden Legend

[13]Auden, The Twelve

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2 Comments

  1. Michael Baenen on November 7, 2018 at 18:48

    I had the good fortune to hear this sermon in the Chapel. Listening to it again I find it even richer and more profound in its reflections on the Body of Christ and the lessons for all of us in the lives of the Apostles. Thank you, Br. Sean.

  2. Alan Rollins on November 3, 2018 at 20:38

    Faith in God, faith in a path that brings us to act joyfully and with confidence through the aggression of the joylessness that may surround us. A very striking yet fulfilling sermon, Br. Sean. Thank you for sharing these words.

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