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The Feast of St. James
July 22, 2018

The story of our patron, St. James, is loaded with legends, wonderful legends.  One legend has it that in the ninth century when Charlemagne ruled the Holy Roman Empire, a star accompanied by celestial music led a hermit by the name of Pelagius to a stone tomb in an open field in a remote corner of Spain. The tomb contained three sets of bones that were soon identified as belonging to the apostle, St. James, and to two of his disciples.

     How those bones ever got there is itself the stuff of legend that nicely, if not altogether convincingly, fills out the story of the martyrdom of St. James that we heard in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles.  All we know from that reading is that King Herod killed James, the brother of John, by the sword.  Legend fills in the before and after.  Legend has James, along with two companions, going to Spain to preach the gospel and later returning to Jerusalem where he met his fate at King Herod’s hands.  And legend has those two faithful companions taking the body of James back to Spain for burial, sailing on a rudderless boat but miraculously arriving in Spain in only a week, thanks to the guidance of angels. (Never underestimate the guidance of Angels!)

     And the legend doesn’t end there: years later, when those two companions of James died, their bones were placed alongside his in the tomb where all three rested peacefully till the day eight centuries later when celestial music and a star led Pelagius the hermit to the site.

     The rest, as we say, is history!  Not the legend part, but what came after: an endless procession of pilgrims crisscrossing continents and sailing the seven seas to pray at what they devoutly believed to be the tomb of the Apostle.  Were they misled?  Was their devotion misplaced?  An argument could probably be made for that – one that would appeal to the strictly literal-minded. But for those who have an eye for the poetic, the mystical, and the miraculous, the charming legends of St. James are fertile ground for one of the great metaphors of our Christian faith – the metaphor of the pilgrimage.

     And that’s where the story of James connects with our story.  For we are, all of us, pilgrims on the great journey of faith and life, and James is our patron on the pilgrimage – James, who journeyed to far off Spain to preach the gospel; James who inspired his faithful companions to do the same; James whose story has, for more than a millennium, been inspiring pilgrims beyond number to let go the familiar and the comfortable and to go to places unfamiliar, uncomfortable, untried, unknown.  For that is what pilgrims do, and it’s a daunting thing – leaving behind one’s comfort zone and venturing forth. Pilgrims are risk-takers; they’re more into searching than they are into certainty!

     Today’s reading from Second Corinthians reinforces such thoughts.  St. Paul reminds his friends at Corinth and he reminds us that the great pilgrimage of faith we are on involves uncertainty, affliction, failure, persecution, even death, that’s because, as he says, we carry about in our bodies the dying of Jesus, Jesus who had first to die before he could be raised up.  And Paul uses a marvelous metaphor to describe all this: we pilgrims, he says, are “earthen vessels.” We are, to borrow from the poetry of Genesis, clay from the earth which the creator God scoops up and fashions into human form and then breathes into it the very breath of God! So, earthen vessels we surely are, my friends – modest in our beginnings but exalted in our destiny.  We give ourselves nothing.  God gives us everything!

     I am certainly aware of this as I look back with gratitude on the thirty years that I’ve been privileged to serve here as pastor.  Those images of earthen vessel and pilgrimage tell the story, for an earthen vessel I certainly am, and a pilgrimage it has certainly been – a journey I’ve gotten to walk with you and many other wonderful people like you: fellow pilgrims all, channels of grace each one.

     And the constant companion on the journey – mine as well as yours - was, and will continue to be, Jesus who, Sunday after Sunday, day after day, on the great feasts and in very ordinary time, too, has been there for as he is now – Jesus who makes himself known to us in challenging Word and in the Breaking of the Bread.

     Dear friends, on this feast of our heavenly patron, let us give thanks to God for our faith, for inviting us to make the great pilgrimage of faith, and for giving us St. James to be our patron and guide along the way.  And let us give thanks for our parish, this incredible community of faith – this blessed band of fellow pilgrims – earthen vessels each of us, but chosen vessels, too - who carry within us a priceless treasure wherever it is we go, a treasure whose surpassing power comes from God and not from us!

Father Michael G. Ryan




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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303