Today we’re celebrating an individual, a fisherman from Lake Galilee, a chosen disciple of Jesus, a 1st century Jew with a Greek name, Andrew (meaning “manly”). With time, he’s become patron of our country, and of others too. But he wasn’t an isolated individual. He was an Apostle. He was one of the Twelve. Jesus formed a core group around him: his gang, if you like, his circle, his set, his band, his mates. They went about together. They were “all together” in one place when the Holy Spirit came on them at Pentecost. The Liturgy of the Church calls them a company or a choir. “College” is another word. They are important as individuals, but they’re important as a group.
It’s good for us to get this. The apostles – together in Christ – have a unique place in the plan of salvation, and therefore in our salvation. We owe them so much. “Through the blessed apostles, you watch over [your flock], says one of the Mass Prefaces, and protect it always.” “You have built your Church, says another, to stand firm on apostolic foundations…and to offer all humanity your heavenly teaching.” Everything we have to hold us together and help us follow Christ comes to us, directly or indirectly, through the lips and lives and hands of the apostles. The New Testament, for example: it’s the work of the apostles and their companions and helpers. The proclamation, “Jesus is Lord! God raised him from the dead”, which St Paul mentions in the 2nd reading, is the original form of the profession at baptism. It comes to us from the Apostles. The faith, the sacraments, the ministry of the Church: from the Apostles. These men lived and died for the truth of Jesus. They showed us where Jesus stands in the scale of values, what he is worth, if you like: that is, everything, the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field.
The Liturgy of the Divine Office offers special intercessions for the feasts of Apostles. Let’s pray them. The response is: “The choir of Apostles praises you, O Lord.”
“…Since we have a heavenly inheritance from the Apostles, let us thank our Father for all his gift, as we acclaim. R/
“Praise to you, Lord, for the table of Christ’s Body and Blood, handed on to us from the Apostles – by which we are refreshed and given life: R/
“For the table of your word, prepared for us by the Apostles, – by which we are given light and joy: R/
“For your holy Church, built upon the Apostles, – by which we become one Body: R/
“For the washing of Baptism and of Penance, entrusted to the Apostles, – by which we are cleansed of all sins: R/”
Our Christianity comes to us from them. And the Holy Spirit loves to remind us of them. So, they are remembered in the Liturgy. They’re mentioned collectively – together in Christ – in every Eucharistic Prayer. Many of Christendom’s great pilgrim shrines and churches are linked to them: Compostella to St James, Rome to Ss Peter and Paul, the island of Patmos to St John. Indian Christians look to St Thomas. And so on.
And here’s the next thing. How can they have such a presence, such a power? Where does it come from? Who does it come from? After Mary, there can be no other people in Christian history who have so felt Christ, experienced him, who have been so marked by his presence, his power. Who have been so shaken by the earthquake of divine revelation, the Word made flesh. Who have so passed through the fire and the water of the Cross and the Resurrection, traumatised, even, and transformed. “Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven”, as the hymn says. Blown clean and energized by the Holy Spirit. How much of God can we bear?
So we can think of Andrew, today’s man: the 1st-century Galilean fisherman, in business with his brother. We can think how he followed the pointing finger of John the Baptist, “there’s the Lamb of God”, how Jesus turned and saw him and asked, “What are you after? What are you looking for?” Could he have ever forgotten that first day in the Master’s company? How captivated he and the other disciple must have been! He couldn’t keep it in. He had to run and find his brother: “We have found the Messiah!”, and bring him to Jesus. Could he ever have forgotten what’s recounted in today’s Gospel? How that same man walked along the seashore, and again must have turned and looked, calling him a further step: to leave and to follow? Everything that’s in the pages of the Gospel was first written, inscribed, impressed on his heart, in full 3D as it were. And so with the whole Gospel story. Would Andrew ever have forgotten how he ran away when Jesus was arrested, or how Jesus appeared to him and his companions at table, forgiving their failure, showing his risen-ness?
In the spiritual path outlined by St Benedict in his Rule, the first step is to remember, not forget. I don’t think Andrew, or any of his fellows, ever forgot: that face, the eyes, the look, the smile, the meals, the walking, the words; the sense of being known and chosen, accepted and forgiven, wanted and sent.
In eternity too, this must be, face to face again, their life and their joy. Their core, their heart, their substance, who and what they are. “It is not I who live, said one of them, but Christ who lives in me”: incarnate, crucified, risen, God and man. Nothing was or is more real to them than Jesus. Let us thank them for allowing this to happen. Let us thank them for passing on the things, the holy things, that can allow it to happen even to us!
(St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 30 November 2019)