Homily for the Celebration of the Feast of St James

Collect for St James’ Day: Merciful God, whose holy apostle Saint James, leaving his father and all that he had, was obedient to the calling of your Son Jesus Christ and followed him even to death: help us, forsaking the false attractions of the world to be ready at all times to answer your call without delay: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

This evening we are truly celebrating the feast of our patron saint St James with some wonderful music to mark the occasion. Apparently, this church was only dedicated to St. James at some time in the thirteenth century when it became far more usual for churches to receive a dedication to a specific saint so presumably before that it was simply known as Abinger Church. But then it opted for St James along with some five hundred and forty-five other English churches. Top of the dedications is St Mary with a massive two thousand , three hundred and sixty eight churches while our St James only comes in at number eight in the popularity rating but please note two ahead of Christ Church which can only muster just under four hundred churches.

St James brother of John, sons of Zebedee and speculatively their mother was Salome who just might have been Mary’s sister in which case they could well have been Jesus’ cousins. Be that as it may they were busy catching fish for their livelihood when Jesus came and called them to follow him thus turning their way of life upside down. He gave them the nickname ‘Sons of Thunder’ and it has been suggested that they earned this name because of their passionate and fiery nature illustrated by the time when having been refused hospitality for Jesus and the other disciples in a Samaritan village they asked if Jesus would like them to command fire from heaven and consume the place. Whether they had the power to do this we ‘ll never know as fortunately Jesus didn’t take them up on the offer and rebuked them strongly for making it.

We know too that, whoever their mother was, she was most ambitious for her sons wanting them to have the best top table places either side of Jesus in heaven. Again, this earned a stiff rebuke and the question was then put to them as to whether they were able to drink the cup that he was about to drink. Their immediate reply was ‘We are able’ and certainly James was to discover just what this entailed when he became one of the first Christian martyrs by having his head chopped off on the orders of King Herod Agrippa.

Apart from these bare facts we know virtually nothing about James but there are some splendid legends connected with him. One of these was that after his death he was placed in a sail boat and transported by a concourse of angels to Spain where it has been suggested he spread the gospel before making the mistake of returning to Jerusalem and meeting his untimely end. Reaching the Spanish shore the body lay on a stone that closed over it and remained undiscovered until the year eight hundred when James’ relics were interred in the church at Compostella. From then on, he was connected with all sorts of miracles including riding in on a white horse to a vastly outnumbered Christian army surrounded by the Moors and of course leading them to a great victory in which no less than eight thousand of the infidels met their demise. And ever since Spanish armies have always entered battle to the rallying cry of ‘Santiago’ and earned for James the title of James the Moor Slayer.

The other splendid miracle associated with James is when he apparently was instrumental in bringing back to life a boy who had been unjustly hanged and been dead for five weeks. When the judge concerned heard of this miraculous event he declared that the boy was no more alive than the fowls on his dinner table. At this point the rooster and the hen came back to life and strutted off the table so be warned being incredulous of miracles may lose you your dinner. And incidentally ever since then a rooster and a hen have always been kept in the church at Compostela so maybe we could think about introducing similar fowl here in Abinger

Wonderful colourful legends to make us smile but what we need to remember this evening is that James, whatever his nature, was a true, loyal and courageous disciple of Christ determined to spread the gospel faith and who did drink the cup as Jesus did and died for him. Incidentally his brother John was the very last disciple to die and then, unlike his brother, did so safely in his own bed.

James who is the patron saint not only of Spain but also of horsemen, (must have been that ride). labourers, furriers and soldiers and apparently just the saint to invoke if you are suffering from rheumatism or arthritis.

James who, like all the saints, has given us an example to follow here in Abinger. An example of dedicated Christian witness, an example of fearlessness in our testimony and a willingness to follow Christ and to drink whatever cup he hands to us. Drink it, knowing that in so doing we are serving him not as great saints like James but as part of the body of little ordinary everyday saints who devoutly long for the gospel of Christ and the love of Christ to continue to be known in the face of all the secular armies, the disbelieving and scoffing armies that seem to have become so numerous of late. And who knows maybe one of these days James himself might ride in again on his white horse to lead us to another wonderful and acclaimed victory for Christ himself.,

Rev’d Virginia Smith, 23rd July 2023

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