James, often called “the Greater”, was a Galilean fisherman who with his brother John was one of the first disciples called by Jesus to follow him. The two brothers, sons of Zebedee, were called Boanerges, “sons of thunder”, and were part of the inner circle of the disciples, along with Simon Peter. They were present with Jesus at his tranfiguration and with him in the garden of Gethsamane. They angered the other disciples by asking Jesus for places of honor when he was to come into his glory, one at his right hand and one at his left (the Gospel according to Matthew relates that their mother asked this favor of Jesus). They were present for the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection.
James was the first of the apostles to suffer martyrdom, being put to the sword on the orders of Herod Agrippa, who hoped in vain that, by getting rid of the leaders of the early Jerusalem Christian community, he could stem the flow of those hearing the good news and becoming followers of the Way. James’ martyrdom is thought to have taken place in the year 44.
A ninth century legend places the relics of Saint James in the eponymous city of Santiago in Galicia, in northwestern Spain. The great cathedral and shrine of Santiago became one of the great pilgrimage centers of western Europe during the Middle Ages. Monasteries, both Cluniac and Augustinian, were built along the famous pilgrims’ route to provide hospitality for the pilgrims. Pilgrims to Santiago would return bearing on their cloaks the scallop shell as a sign of their having made the pilgrimage, hence the appearance of the shell in western iconography of Saint James.
prepared from Celebrating the Saints and other sources
O gracious God, we remember before you today your servant and apostle James, first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ; and we pray that you will pour out upon the leaders of your Church that spirit of self-denying service by which alone they may have true authority among your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The First Lesson
The word that Jeremiah the prophet spoke to Baruch the son of Neriah, when he wrote these words in a book at the dictation of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: You said, ‘Woe is me! For the Lord has added sorrow to my pain. I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest.’ Thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord: Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up—that is, the whole land. And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the Lord. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go.”
Domine Deus meus
O LORD my God, I take refuge in you; *
save and deliver me from all who pursue me;
Lest like a lion they tear me in pieces *
and snatch me away with none to deliver me.
O LORD my God, if I have done these things: *
if there is any wickedness in my hands,
If I have repaid my friend with evil, *
or plundered him who without cause is my enemy;
Then let my enemy pursue and overtake me, *
trample my life into the ground,
and lay my honor in the dust.
Stand up, O LORD, in your wrath; *
rise up against the fury of my enemies.
Awake, O my God, decree justice; *
let the assembly of the peoples gather round you.
Be seated on your lofty throne, O Most High; *
O LORD, judge the nations.
Give judgment for me according to my
righteousness, O LORD, *
and according to my innocence, O Most High.
Let the malice of the wicked come to an end,
but establish the righteous; *
for you test the mind and heart, O righteous God.
The Second Lesson
Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread.
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The Lessons and Gospel are taken from the English Standard Version Bible. The Collect and Psalm are taken from the Book of Common Prayer (1979).
The icon of Saint James is from the workshop of Simone Martini, c. 1320. This image is © National Gallery of Art, Washington