Celebrating Some Slightly-Less-Famous Apostles

Today, May 1st, is the Major Feast Day in honor of Saints Philip and James, two of Jesus’ Apostles.  There were several guys named James in the New Testament; this James is not the son of Zebedee, brother of the Apostle John, nor [probably] is he James of Jerusalem brother of Jesus, author of the epistle James.  Today the Church commemorates a third, lesser-known James, along with Philip who only speaks a couple lines in the Bible (in John 1 and John 14).  How do we celebrate the lives and ministries of people we barely know?  Let’s look at some traditional Scriptures & prayers for this holiday.

At today’s the service of Holy Communion, the Gospel reading for this holiday is John 14:1-14.  There we find Philip asking Jesus, “show us the Father,” opening the door for Jesus to give us the profound teaching, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”  This is one of the great statements from Jesus that declares his unity with God the Father, and thus his own full divinity, despite being a human being.  This also allows us to make more sense of the words Jesus had spoken just moments earlier: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  Thus we have the Collect (the theme-prayer) for this day:

O Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life; that, following the steps of your holy Apostles, Saint Philip and Saint James, we may steadfastly walk in the way that leads to eternal life; through the same your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The theme of knowing God through Jesus Christ, as taught in John 14, is neatly collected up in this Collect.  Following Jesus as “the way, the truth, and the life” is echoed in Proverbs 4:10-18 and Psalm 25:1-9 and James 1:1-12, which are other readings traditionally associated with the celebration of this holiday.

Even in the Daily Office of Morning & Evening Prayer, though, a few other Scripture readings pop up that give us further insights into how the lives of Philip & James continue to speak to us today.  Isaiah 61, which contains prophetic words that Jesus applied to himself, describes the joyful ministry of proclaiming the Gospel, in which all followers of Christ share.  Zechariah 4 is a vision of rebuilding the Temple, proclaiming the grace of God to all who believe in him, and celebrating the anointing of those who serve him.  While Philip and James are certainly not the only two who served Christ and were anointed to be his Apostles, they certainly were among them.  Finally, John 1:43-51 is also traditionally read on this day, showing us the ministry of Philip in action, drawing others to follow Jesus.

May we, too, truly come to see and know that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, because he is God himself.  And may we, like Philip and James, become faithful witnesses, steadfastly walking in the way that leads to eternal life.

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About Fr. Brench

I'm a Priest in the Anglican Diocese in New England interested in spiritual formation, theology, and the growth of God's Kingdom.
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