Today is the Feast of St James, one of Jesus’ circle of three closest disciples, and patron saint of one of the churches I currently serve.
The lectionary sets us two unflattering stories of James to mark the occasion: at Holy Communion, the account of James’ and John’s mother asking Jesus to place her sons at either side of his throne in glory; and at Morning Prayer, the account of James and John asking Jesus if they can call fire from heaven down on a Samaritan village which refused to welcome them because they were on their way to Jerusalem – an attitude which seems frighteningly contemporary after the massacre in Norway at the weekend.
James and John were known as the Sons of Thunder, a nickname which is generally taken to refer to the hotheadedness demonstrated above; but in the last book of the New Testament, the account of Revelations of heaven given to James’ brother John in his older years, thunder is synonymous with worship, inviting us to reframe our understanding of what a Son of Thunder might be. Here we see the possibility of one whose misguided ideas of zeal for God are expressed through violence undergoing a transformation of grace, so that they have no less zeal, but it is channelled in a way that brings glory to God. This would seem to me to be a timely prayer, whatever may come of Anders Behring Breivik.
Current events aside, I am glad that St James’ feast-day is marked by acknowledging his less-than-finest moments. It invites us to experience hope in our own failures, reminding us that we are not paper saints but flesh-and-blood; and challenges us to repent from our tendency to promote our finer moments rather than be open about our frailty.
St James became the patron saint of Spain, and is especially associated with the pilgrim way that runs across the north of the country. His symbol, the scallop shell, became a symbol for pilgrims in general. I recently wrote on the film The Way, here, and cannot recommend it highly enough.