Festival of St. James the Elder, Apostle
Today, the Holy Church celebrates the Festival of St. James the Elder, Apostle.
The Gospels tell that among the first disciples Christ called to Himself were the two sons of Zebedee and Salome: the fishermen James and John. This James is often called the “elder” to distinguish him from James the “less,” or “the younger, the littler,” whose feast day is on May 1.
Though present at some of the most significant events in our Lord’s ministry, James is strangely silent in the Scriptures. He was one of the favored three blessed to witness the raising of Jairus’s daughter, the glory of the Transfiguration, and the agony in the Garden.
The Gospels recount how James and John, either directly or through their mother, asked of the Lord the favor of sitting in the chief places, on His right and left, when He entered into His glory. Our Lord bluntly tells them, “You don’t know what you are asking.” They were thinking in a worldly way, but the Lord’s glory was mysterious and utterly unexpected. “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink and to be baptized with the Baptism I am to undergo?”
In boundless self-confidence they both affirm that they are able. It is as though our Lord looked down through the years and saw. He nodded. He told them, “You will indeed drink from My cup and share My Baptism, but to sit at My right and left is not Mine to grant. It is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” Most probably Jesus was speaking of the thieves crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. For the glory of Jesus was, above all, the cross, where He reigned as king. “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
But with His long sight, Jesus did see them sharing His cup of suffering. He saw John outliving all the other disciples and suffering anxieties for the churches beset by heresies as he lived in exile on Patmos and received strange visions. And James? How could He not have seen that among the chosen Twelve, James would be the very first to be martyred? Herod Agrippa I had him slain around a decade after the crucifixion of our Lord. James was beheaded for the crime of witnessing to others of the risen Lord, whose blood blots out the world’s sin and whose resurrection set free His baptized from death itself. These even occurred around the same time as our Lord’s Passion; it was Passover. Except for John, tradition states that all the company of the
Twelve met a similar fate, just as the Lord had foretold; “If they hate Me, they will hate you.”
For silent James, the holy martyr whose blood speaks boldly of the defeat of death, all glory to You, Lord Jesus!
Prayer: Grant, O Lord, that, as Saint James the apostle readily followed the calling of your Son Jesus Christ, we may by your grace be enabled to forsake all false and passing allurements and follow him alone; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
This devotion is from Celebrating the Saints (126-127) by William Weedon. The prayer is from Lutheran Worship and is the one appointed for this festival.