The Feast of St. Matthias

Feast of St. Matthias – 24 February 2023 Acts 1:15-26; Psalm 15; Philippians 3:13-21; John 15:1, 6-16 – Chapel of the Apostles, Sewanee

Well, perhaps I shouldn’t, but I’m going to anyway. I’m going to talk about . . . Judas. It’s Matthias’s day, but we can’t escape Judas, can we? 

“O Almighty God, who into the place of Judas didst choose thy faithful servant Matthias to be of the number of the Twelve: Grant that thy Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be ordered and guided by faithful and true pastors . . .”

I want to talk about Matthias. This is Matthias’s day. But we just can’t seem to escape Judas. 

We’ve heard from Acts. There is Peter, in the midst of 120 believers in Jerusalem, saying, “All right everybody, gather round, we’ve got to elect another apostle. By the way, the reason for this is that Judas betrayed Jesus. You remember Judas, don’t you?”

And then there is that awful description of the death that Luke slips in there, you know, just for good measure. We can’t escape Judas. Especially not today. 

Finally they do get down to business, Peter and the crowd of believers in Jerusalem. 

“So, will it be Joseph or Matthias? They’ve both been with us all along the way—Baptism to Ascension—no arguing with their credentials. Which one’s it gonna be? Let us turn now to prayer.” 

Now we’re moving on. Finally. 

“Lord, you know us inside and out. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place [of] Judas [who] turned aside to go to his own place.”

No, we just can’t escape Judas. 

Haven’t you felt in this liturgy the specter of Judas hanging overhead? Who are we supposed to think about when we hear the words of the psalmist?

“Lord . . . who may abide upon your holy hill?”

This much is clear: “There is no guile upon his tongue; he does no evil to his friend . . . Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.” 

Who does that remind you of? 

And when we hear Jesus say, “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers . . . thrown into the fire, and burned,” which apostle comes to mind?

That’s the way it so often goes–the shadow of the past hangs so prominently over the present. 

I’ve overheard this conversation before, maybe you have, too–  

“Have you met our new bishop? Wonderful, just wonderful.” 

“Oh, I quite agree. Marvelous new bishop.” 

“Me too. Simply fabulous bishop.”

“Well, yeah, you guys can say that, but the last one was so bad, how could this one not be an improvement?”

It’s so often like that. We can’t escape what’s happened before. It influences our perception of now. 

I wish sometimes we could just erase the past. Just soak it up and squeeze the dirty water of a bygone age into the mop bucket of history, throw it into the gutter. 

I just wish we could let the new folks get on with it, the new ideas flow freely into the future, the contemporary understandings take the day. “Let Matthias be Matthias.”

God help me, I do wish we could erase the past . . . but the trouble is . . . we’re Christians. And that’s just not how it works for us.   

We Christians keep the past in mind. Because we can learn from it? Yes, that’s part of it. But more to the point—because the past is that great container of all that is redeemed in the present. 

The past is what Jesus gathers up and somehow, beyond our understanding, reconciles to himself so that we can go on living free from its control. 

We honor Matthias because Matthias helps us remember what Jesus makes possible: the reconciliation of the past with the present moment, which keeps us straining forward to what lies ahead. 

You’re no stranger to this reality, best made known in the memorial Jesus has commanded us to make. 

That wonderful and terrifying thing that happens each time we gather to offer holy gifts: when memory becomes more than memory and we recall his blessed passion and precious death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension, and look for his coming again with power and great glory.

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