St James

A short talk on St James, the patronal saint of my church, given this morning for his feast day.

St James the Greater was among the first people that Jesus called to follow him. He was mending his fishing nets with his brother John and father Zebedee when Jesus called, and the two brothers immediately left the boat and their father to go with him.

In fact, they were both impulsive, as well as sometimes aggressive and insensitive, and this may be why Jesus called them ‘Sons of Thunder’. All the same, though, Jesus loved and called them and showed endless patience, never giving up on them or despairing of their lack of understanding, even when they wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy a village for refusing to receive him.

James and John were at Jesus’ transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane, but perhaps their most famous moment was asking to sit either side of Jesus when he came in his glory. Jesus had just explained that he was going to Jerusalem to be arrested, mocked, beaten and killed, but that apparently went straight over their heads. They hadn’t yet understood that Jesus’ kingdom was not about earthly power, wealth and status, but about suffering, sacrifice and service. So, Jesus patiently tries to explain to them that if they want to be at his side they must be prepared to face the same things that he’s facing – to take up their own crosses and share in his sufferings if they wish to share in his glory, as must we all in our own different ways.

Eventually, James did share in Jesus’ sufferings in a very direct way as we read in Acts 12 that King Herod Agrippa had James killed – and he’s thought to have been the first of the 12 apostles to be killed.

There’s also a tradition that James had been to Spain to spread the Gospel and that after his death he was taken there for burial in Santiago de Compostela, which is of course now a major place of pilgrimage.

James is also associated with the scallop shell, which we can see in this church. There are two versions of the story associated with this. One is that while James’ body was being taken for burial the ship was hit by a heavy storm and the body washed overboard. When it was recovered it was covered in scallops. The second version says that it was a groom and his horse that fell into the sea and were saved by a miracle, emerging from the sea covered in scallops. So, the scallop shell became James’ symbol and later the symbol used by pilgrims, of whom James is the patron saint.

So to finish let’s pray a pilgrim’s prayer as we too follow in the footsteps of Jesus:
Lord, be for us our companion on the walk,
Our guide at the crossroads,
Our breath in our weariness,
Our protection in danger,
Our home along the way,
Our shade in the heat,
Our light in the darkness,
Our consolation in our discouragements,
And our strength in our intentions.


Leave a Reply