Almost nothing is known of St Matthias. Perhaps he is most important because his election as an apostle shows the way the that Church would continue to choose its pastors and guides, by bringing forward members as the Spirit led.
Our Patron Saint’s name is the Greek form of Mattathias, Hebrew Mattithiah, signifying "gift of Yahweh." The late mediaeval Golden Legend says “Matthias in Hebrew is as much to say as given to our Lord, or a gift of our Lord, or else humble or little.” St Matthias is certainly humble in terms of personal fame! He is not mentioned in the Gospels, but according to Acts 1.21 was one of the disciples of Jesus, and had been with Him from His baptism by John to the Ascension. Indeed the lack of definite information has led some people to identify him with this or that little-known figure, including Nathaniel, Barnabas, and even Zacchaeus.
St Matthias is only mentioned in the New Testament in Acts 1.21-26, when he was one of the two disciples selected as candidates to fill the place among the Twelve Apostles left by Judas. After prayer lots were cast and Matthias was chosen.
Where the canonical sources fail us, legends and church traditions more than make up for. A number of sources tell of him preaching the gospel to the "cannibals of Ethiopia"
A different tradition was that Matthias was stoned at Jerusalem and then beheaded with an axe. This tradition gained the most popularity in the Western Church. There we learn that Matthias was a native of Bethlehem, where he was trained in the Law and the Prophets. After he had been elected to join the apostles, he preached in Jerusalem and worked miracles of healing in the name of Jesus. For this he was accused before the high priest but refused to answer, saying, “to be a Christian is nothing criminal but it is a glorious life”. Offered a chance to repent, Matthias said “God forbid that I should repent of the truth that I have truly found, and become an apostate” (was he perhaps thinking of Judas whom he had replaced?).
He returned to preaching by word and example, converting many, until finally his enemies got two false witnesses to accuse him, and the false witnesses cast the first stones against him. Matthias “prayed that the stones might be buried that the false witnesses had cast upon him, for to bear witness against them that stoned him,” and in the end they beheaded him with an axe, in the Roman manner. He died commending his spirit to God.
Finally we should note a tradition that St Matthias died of old age. Hippolytus of Rome (d. 235) said that “Matthias, who was one of the seventy, was numbered along with the eleven apostles, and preached in Jerusalem, and fell asleep and was buried there.”
These stories have no historical value, although the words “to be a Christian is nothing criminal but it is a glorious life” are well worth remembering. It is very likely that he never went to the country we call Ethiopia.
The concern of the Apostles to complete the number is interesting; for the institution of Twelve Apostles was not maintained in the Church. There is no account of a further election when St James the brother of John was executed (Acts 12:2). So maybe Matthias is unique in this regard and that is why has had captured the imagination of many throughout the ages.
The choice between Barsabbas and Matthias was made by casting lots, not ballots: voting by ballot was not a Jewish custom; the method of discerning the Lord’s will in the Old Testament was by lot. Moreover a ballot would not harmonize with their prayer “show which of these two thou hast chosen”. What they did was to give each candidate a tablet, bearing his name, to place in the urn; and that which fell out, on the urn being shaken, determined which was successful.
This is the only known occasion on which the early Church used lots to ascertain God’s will; it is not stated by what method of choice was used when the Twelve told the brethren to “pick out from among you” the seven to assist in the service(Acts 6.3-5).
So what do we take away from the recounting of some interesting if not rather unreliable traditions concerning St Matthias our patron?
I would suggest two things.
firstly his name: the meaning of Matthias name is
“given to our Lord, or a gift of our Lord, or else humble or little.”
We are certainty little in number here this morning and I would hope that even though we are small our contribution to the life of the community through our hall and in this church where over the years people come to mourn their loved ones, celebrate new life granted to them and their families and of course to celebrate the love that binds two people together in marriage is of greater significance.
Let me encourage you this morning to think of yourselves as given our Lord and as such a gift for the world we are called to serve and in which we witness to that Lord who calls us as he called our Patron Matthias and join with him in the “this ministry and apostleship” of the church which is ours to share in through our baptism.
We do this at a time in the world where it is Christians who are the most persecuted of all the faith communities in the world. Every 11 minutes a man or a woman or a child is put to death simply for being that “gift of our Lord”
The second are the words attributed to him at his martyrdom: Matthias is recorded in saying that “to be a Christian is nothing criminal but it is a glorious life”. Let us pray for our brothers and sisters in faith who are treated as criminal, for our brothers and sisters who like our Patron Matthias have left this life to enter their glory by the violent had of another, and let us pray that God will spare us and indeed all his Church from such a fate but that should we ever be faced with such choices that others have to make every day let us take heart from our Patron's own words when face with such a choice:
“God forbid that I should repent of the truth that I have truly found, and become an apostate”