Sermon for First Evensong Ss Simon and Jude Sunday 27 October 2019
Sermon preached by Fr Michael Bowie
Like this church, my home parish of Christ Church St Laurence in Sydney attracts its share of characters. For me, one of them is firmly identified with the feast we’re celebrating this evening.
They’re know in the parish as the ‘treasures’, from the story of St Laurence, deacon of Rome, who was required by the Prefect of the city to surrender the treasures of the church and produced a cart full of street people.
One of the more extraordinary treasures was Brother Grant, or as he insisted he should properly be called, Brother Jude Grant. Jude Grant dressed in a peculiar home-made version of a religious habit, a sort of grey house coat that reached his knees and a grey skull-cap: this made him look like one of the opium den proprietors that had flourished nearby a century and a half ago. If you walked past the west door of the church you’d often see Jude Grant sitting on a bench in the porch. Unless he saw you first, in which case he would throw his considerable bulk into an attitude of pious prayer on a nearby prie dieu which he’d commandeered. If asked, or even if not asked, he would tell you that he’d been there for several hours, engaged in Anglican religious exercises (by which he meant the rosary). If he didn’t see you coming he was usually asleep on the bench.
Grant Latham had been in and out of psychiatric institutions as a young man, and had always boomeranged back to Christ Church when he got out. I can’t recall much about his family, but it hadn’t been a happy story. He had a council flat in a post-war veteran’s settlement called Marsfield (which he always referred to as The Field of Mars). At some point in my predecessor’s incumbency he’d reinvented himself as what he called a ‘semi-religious lay brother’. This quaint and meaningless term was talismanic for him and, he believed, justified his home-made habit.
His religious duties consisted in Anglican religious exercises, as described above, evangelising on trains and hosting a bible study in his flat. You’re getting a picture. When I arrived as Rector of the parish he asked if I would be his religious superior. I had little choice: he phoned several times a day until, like the unjust judge of the parable, I acceded to his request. My duties, as outlined by him, were to receive his solemn vows (which were tweaked and offered afresh with startling frequency) and to take him out for tea, on his birthday and on this, his name day, being the feast of Ss Simon and Jude.
How S. Jude, the patron of lost causes, came to be his patron saint I’m not sure. I’ve always suspected a clerical joke on the part of my predecessor. But once I had been elected as his Superior I could not escape, because my successor refused the honour. So once I moved back to the UK the phone calls multiplied, often late at night, Sydney time, always beginning with the anxious question, ‘you are still my religious superior, aren’t you?’ Then, while in Sheffield, I got a call from one of the scary Sydney diocesan lawyers: Jude Grant had got into a dispute with his neighbour and claimed religious persecution. He had told the police that I was his religious superior under the ultimate authority of the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney. Archbishop Peter Jenson, I was told, was not pleased. I gently suggested to the lawyer, to whom this had obviously not occurred, that Grant might not have taken his pills, and promised to sort him out. He died a few years later, not yet 60, of complications arising from diabetes and an unsuitable diet. May he rest in peace.
As well as multiple copies of his vows, posted to me at regular intervals, I have an extraordinary photo of Grant in his summer habit sitting at home under a photograph of the Duke of Edinburgh, whom he especially admired, its frame surmounted by an Australian flag, an aboriginal flag and a boomerang, all held together by a lace doily. He’s wearing his skull cap, a grey clerical shirt and a crucifix around his neck. Cigar in hand, he is grinning with pure joy.
Why am I telling you this mad story? Well there isn’t much to say about Sts Simon and Jude, and at least this Jude, Br Jude Grant, this lost cause in worldly terms, is a real person, whom I always remember on this feast.
About all we know about Simon and Jude is that they may have shared martyrdom and ministry in Persia. Simon’s name comes down to us more often as ‘Simon the Zealot’, identifying him as a member of an activist religious party, possibly even what we would call a terrorist. Jude is referred to as Judas ‘not Iscariot’, and has a solitary honourable mention in John’s Gospel (14.22), when he asks Jesus, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us and not to the world?’ There’s a very short letter under his name near the end of the New Testament and he is probably invoked as the patron of lost causes because for a long time no one invoked him at all, since so little is known about him.
As St Laurence reminds us, the church does not celebrate celebrities. It celebrates saints. The distinction is important. The lives of celebrities are public exhibitions: there’s no such thing as a hidden celebrity. It is otherwise with the saints. We may know a lot about some saints, but about so many we know little or nothing. And they would not have it otherwise.
For me Br Jude Grant epitomises that paradox. Of course there was a childlike attention-seeking aspect to his performed life. But he knew that he was not psychologically strong. He also knew that the Church could give him a safe place to be himself, and be loved. It was ludicrous to suggest that he was any kind of monk or friar. But it was completely right to welcome him into the family of God in that place as someone who loved his heavenly Father and longed for peace, acceptance, love and, yes, holiness. When S. Jude asked Jesus his question, the Lord replied, ‘Those who love me will keep my word and my Father will love them and we will come to them and make our home with them.’
Many of the great saints have been judged mad by the world’s criteria. We don’t have to be clever or successful or well-adjusted, or even sane, to get to heaven. We just have to love the Lord.