On Thursday 28th October the church remembered Simon and Jude, apostles. Although they were among the twelve whom Jesus chose for special teaching before commissioning them to go out and share the Good News with the world, these two apostles are not well known. They each share their name with another apostle and so they are distinguished by extra information so that we don’t become confused when reading about them. Although only a little is known about each of them, Paul calls the apostles the foundation of the church. It is on their work that we build, whether it be in RL or SL, and each of us has a part to play.
The readings of the day were Psalm 119:89-96, Ephesians 2:18-end, John 15:17-end. My reflection follows:
Leading worship in SL has its own particular challenges. There is the practical stuff such as making sure all the settings are right, I can be heard, the text is showing up etc. There is the distraction of having people literally dropping in to the service as they are teleported in by friends. There is the odd aspect of seeing people as avatars which may be glowing clouds or just hair or a pair of shoes. Perhaps the most distracting challenge I have known was when Epiphany refused to rez. Lag was terrible, I couldn’t see most of the Cathedral. Time passed and nothing improved so I arranged for Gareth to teleport me to the front of the Cathedral and to make sure I was facing the right way. I couldn’t see anyone I was talking to, nor most of the building. I certainly couldn’t see the floor. That meant that my avatar appeared to be standing over a yawning chasm. Despite it only being pixels, I can assure you that the big hole under my feet felt very real indeed.
I think most of us like to stand on something solid. It’s also good to have our buildings standing on something solid too. When this Cathedral does manage to rez properly, it looks firm with good foundations (well, unless someone takes them into their inventory, which has happened in the past!). Foundations need to rest on rock or hard packed earth and be deep enough to keep the building safe in whatever environment it is built. Buildings which are not right in this respect can be felled by earthquakes or knocked down in floods. The bigger the building, the stronger the foundations need to be.
In the reading from Ephesians for today, Paul wrote that the Christian community was like a holy temple. A temple is a huge building as you will know if you have read the description in the Bible or seen some of the ancient pagan temples. The foundations have to be right to hold up the weight. Peter adds to Paul’s picture by talking about Christians as stones which make up the walls of God’s temple. We’re not solid, immovable objects but living, breathing ‘stones’. Each of us has our place in the walls, our part to play in creating a beautiful and functioning building which brings glory to God. Even those who think of themselves as shy or lacking in talent are welcome, indeed vital, members of the temple of God. If the place assigned to a person is not filled, then that leaves a hole in the wall, a weakness, an incompleteness.
If everyone plays their part but the foundations are not strong enough then all the work we do will not last for long. Paul explains that the cornerstone of the temple is Jesus. The cornerstone locks two walls together. It can also be the ceremonial stone which is first laid before the building begins to take shape. The foundations of this temple are the apostles and prophets.
The apostles were the ‘sent ones’, those who went out and shared the Good News of the kingdom of God. Paul himself was an apostle of course, a very famous and hard working one. He wasn’t one of the original twelve companions of Jesus though. Today we remember two of those twelve, described in the Book of Revelation: ‘The wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.’
That description makes plain how important the apostles are and yet Simon and Jude, whose feast day it is today, are probably barely known by most Christians. In fact, if they didn’t share their names with other more famous apostles, we would probably know nothing about them but their names. Jesus had among his twelve disciples two called Simon, two called Judas and two called James. He gave them nicknames, probably to distinguish between them, and that helps us to know them better.
Simon was called the Cananaen or the Zealot, so that he was not confused with Simon Peter. He may have been a member of the Jewish freedom fighters who were called Zealots or perhaps he was known for being zealous for God. Possibly he was something like a terrorist, but we have to assume that if he was he had turned from that when he joined Jesus’ disciples. Judas, shortened to Jude, is described as ‘Judas, not Iscariot’. Luke calls him ‘son of James’ while Matthew and Mark call him Thaddaeus, which means ‘courageous’. There is a letter of Jude in the New Testament. If this was written by the same Jude, he is the brother of James. Tradition says he may be the cousin of Mary or one of Jesus’ brothers. He is recorded as asking at the Last Supper. “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us and not to the world?” At some point in history Jude became the patron saint of lost causes and serious illnesses like cancer, perhaps because his epistle exhorts people to persevere rather than giving up.
The major teaching that Jesus shared with his apostles was the message of love. Jesus’ followers, then and now, are to be distinguished by their love for one another. The world will hate the followers of Jesus because they live in a different way, and in so doing they challenge the status quo. It’s unthinkable that the world could hate Jesus but not hate the apostles and all who have come after them. If they bear the likeness of Jesus, having received and lived by his teachings, it will be automatic that the world will respond with hatred. Despite this risk, Jesus tells his apostles, the well known and the barely known, that they are to testify to what they know of him.
If the traditions of Simon and Jude are correct they both travelled great distances to carry out what Jesus asked of them, building the foundation of the church by passing on his teaching. They are associated with Persia, Armenia, Egypt, Judea, Libya, Mauritania, Mesopotamia, Samaria and Syria. They are both thought to have met martyrs’ deaths in Persia or Armenia around 65 AD, with Simon being sawn in two. Jude is said to have been beaten to death with a club before being beheaded. It seems they proved what Jesus said, that the world would hate them as it hated him.
Although Simon and Jude are barely known to us, they are part of the foundations of the Church, the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church, the holy temple of God of which each of us is a living stone. It’s on their teachings that we base our faith. They faithfully passed on what they had learnt by living with Jesus over the three years of his ministry. They gave us what we need to build not only the Church but our individual lives on a firm foundation.
So much in life seems unstable. People fear for their homes and their jobs in the recession. Many recently all over the world have been affected by natural and manmade disasters – homes, health, loved ones, livelihoods have been lost. Bad things happen to good people and we find it hard to understand. However, if we base our life on Jesus’ teaching, remembering his forgiveness when we get it wrong, we have what we need to face everything without fear. For that we have Simon and Jude, among others, to thank for playing their part. It’s up to us to do the same, playing our part in the community of faith ‘built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God’.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor