Feast of Saint James of Jerusalem, Brother of Our Lord, and Martyr, c 62
Acts 15: 12 – 22a
1 Corinthians 15: 1 – 11
Matthew 13: 54 – 58
If you have ever been to Jerusalem, you have perhaps found two of my favourite places. The first is quite easy to find, the Armenian Cathedral of St. James’, just near Jaffa Gate. The problem with the Cathedral is that it is only open when there are services on, and the best time to go is late afternoon for Vespers. It is sung by the cathedral clergy and students who attend the seminary across from the Cathedral. Once Vespers is over you have about 15 minutes to look around before being ushered out. I love the Cathedral, for obvious reasons. Who couldn’t love a cathedral dedicated not to one St. James but two!
The first St. James, the more familiar, is St. James the Apostle, brother of St. John and son of Zebedee. It is he, whose shrine at Compostela in Spain is at the end of the Camino, the pilgrim way that has become so popular in recent years. This St. James was beheaded by order of Herod Antipas and in a side chapel of the Cathedral, near the door, is his shrine. Spain has his body, but the Armenians in Jerusalem have his head.
1 Cor. 15:1-11
Today we commemorate James of Jerusalem and the First Council of the Church.
The Gospel Reading for today identifies James as a brother of Jesus (v.55). The First reading, from the Book of Acts tells us of the decision reached by James as the Spokesperson of the First Council of Jerusalem (vv. 19-21). The reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians gives us evidence of Jesus’ appearance to James following his Resurrection (v.7). From this the inclusion of James as an apostle and his leadership of the Council are implied.
That Council, and the decision made by James, are of tremendous importance for the identity of the Church. Freed from bondage to the Law of Moses it would no longer be considered as a sect of Judaism. While not denying roots in the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament, never the less, those coming to believe in Jesus Christ and his promises could begin to be a Body of Faithful believers, showing Jesus Christ to the World.
Here is my sermon from this morning. Because so little is known about James, only a scant few mentions in the Bible, listed as one of Jesus’ siblings in Matthew, one of the early witnesses of the Resurrection in I Corinthians, and his role in the Council of Jerusalem. Everything else comes either from tradition or legend. But I feel that first Council was vital to the growth of the early Church, and dealing with the relationship of Christian teaching and Jewish law and customs. I only had a short time in which to get my ideas together with the previous week being my annual personal retreat in which I immersed myself in a significant book dealing with early monastic (principally Benedictine) spirituality by Dom Jean Leclercq, 0SB, of Clairvaux Abbey, Belgium, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God. Then, directly upon my return from Glastonbury Abbey, Hingham, I was greeted with the news of Br. Tom Shaw’s death an hour earlier. So between the SSJE Community working out plans for the funeral (to be Nov. 1) and keeping up with the daily routine of our monastic life, including Yesterday being the monthly Retreat Day, I wasn’t able to be as thorough as I should have been. Looking back at the readings this morning, too late to include anything in the sermon, I saw how James made reference to the Old Testament Prophets Amos and Daniel, who spoke of openness to the Gentiles.
Anyway, here it is.
Today we commemorate James,
“Brother of the Lord.” Some sources say he was the first Bishop of Jerusalem. The event for which he is best known is his role as Presider of the Council of Jerusalem, the first recorded Council of the Church. Our reading from The Acts of the Apostles was about this council. The purpose of this Council was to clarify how many of the customs of Judaism were to be observed by Gentiles becoming believers in Jesus. (Acts 15:1-5)