On the 25th of July each year, the Church of England recalls the life of St James, the Patron Saint of our church here in Burnopfield. Like for many others, details of the life of James are rather sketchy, and indeed a great deal of what is known about him is probably best described as myth as opposed to actual fact. However, unlike some, at least in the case of James we do have certain passages that we can find within the pages of the Bible itself that tell us something about this man.
James (and to be clear we are referring to James the Great as opposed to the Less, or son of Alphaeus, who was another of the disciples), was the fisherman whose calling from the boat of his father Zebedee, alongside his brother John, is described within the gospels. With this brother, James was one of the so called “Sons of Thunder”, rightly earning his “Great” descriptor through his entering into Christ’s most inner circle, along with both his brother and Peter. And this meant that he was to witness such as the Transfiguration, that most fabulous of Mountain top experiences where Christ was transformed into a pure white form before his very eyes and claimed by God as His Beloved Son.
But James was not perfect, and indeed his rather bold and brash behaviour, such as demanding a special position in heaven alongside Jesus (or in Matthew’s description of this incident, sending his mother to ask Jesus for this on his behalf!), saw him rub his fellow disciples and indeed others up the wrong way on several occasions. Yet what we do also hear about James, and uniquely for one of the disciples from the Bible itself, is that he was killed for his faith in Jesus; the book of Acts describing his “dying by the sword” at the hands of King Herod Agrippa.
But the other thing that James is connected with, and one that sees his symbol, and indeed ours at St James being a scallop shell, is pilgrimage. There are in fact many suggestions as to why this shell was to become the symbol of James, however what is certainly true is that from the middle ages, those who have trekked the Camino de Santiago, the route to James’ supposed resting place in Spain, have carried this symbol with them, and still do to this day. For me the story (possibly true) that I love the most is that the shell was carried by pilgrims, so that they could ask for a little to eat or drink from those they met upon their journey – “just enough to fill the shell please” – as they made their way to such Holy places. This shell therefore revealing how pilgrims relied very much upon the hospitality and generosity of those that they encountered on the way, (and by the way, “The Way” starring Martin Sheen, a film describing a modern day walking of the Camino, is well worth a watch, if you haven’t already).
This year at St James we are having our summer fayre on Saturday the 23rd of July (or have had depending on when you read this – but from now on I will assume that we are before the event, as indeed we are as I write this) and this because it is the weekend closest to the day that the church remembers James. Indeed, if you live in the parish of Burnopfield and Dipton you will receive an invitation to come and join us in the Church Hall for this and for all the food, fun, games and stalls that are planned, as we happily recall James, and celebrate our faith today beside that of our ancient patron. But alongside our hospitality, like other pilgrims we are also handing you our pilgrim shell with a request that you fill it if you can, a request that you offer a donation to help us keep the church of this “Great” Saint going – for just like all other pilgrims we rely very much on the kindness of others to keep our journey toward Jesus Christ on the road.
But either way, whether you can or you cannot help us in this way, please do feel free to come and join us on this pilgrimage; come and join us, if you don’t already, in the Church of St James as we worship our great God and His Son Jesus Christ. Just like St James, we most certainly are not perfect, but we do have the occasional mountain top experience and we do offer ourselves and our lives to Jesus in a way that I feel is most certainly true to those who have gone before us such as James, our example in all his wonder and thunder of someone who truly gave their life to Jesus.