Homily for the Solemnity of St Andrew

If there were a litany of St Andrew perhaps it would go like this:

  • fisherman in Galilee, son of John, brother of Simon Peter,
  • disciple of John the Baptist,
  • called by Jesus at the very beginning of his ministry,
  • made an apostle and fisher of men,
  • bringer of others to Jesus (his brother, a boy, the Greeks),
  • filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost,
  • preacher of the Gospel, founder of churches,
  • martyr in Patras,
  • intercessor before God,
  • patron of Russia and Ukraine, Greece, Romania, Barbados…and Scotland.

Behind all this is a real person, an individual with his own heart and head and DNA, unique and unrepeatable.

What Apostles showcase is the impact of Jesus, the difference Christ makes to a human life, the almost unbearable richness.

Here’s this man, with his brother, plying his trade in their father’s fishing business. Then, like God in the Garden of Eden, the Lord walks by and sees him. He watches him, perhaps scrutinises the careful way he and his brother cast the net into the water. And then he speaks, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ ‘Follow’ is literally, ‘Come behind me…fall in behind me.’ It is an extraordinary thing to say. It’s a summons to Andrew simply to entrust himself to Jesus, to subordinate himself to him, to follow behind him Heaven knows where. ‘And I will make you fishers of men.’ It’s the language of creation. I will make you. I will actually frame, fashion you for another kind of fishing. And such was the spell of Christ’s presence that Andrew and his brother left their nets at once and followed him. They were launched on another kind of sea, “this strange divine sea” of Christ.

We’re familiar with the words and events of the Gospels, the stories and sayings. It’s good to remember that Andrew, this real, unique man, heard and saw it all at first hand. It all poured over him and into him. It enlarged his heart, captivated his imagination, filled his thoughts, and changed his life. He was made, – remade – by this experience. It grew within him. He passed through the fire, the shattering disappointment of Jesus’ arrest and trial and execution, and the bewildering about-turn of the Resurrection. Then the wind of Pentecost swirled round him and a tongue of fire rested on him. And out he went from the familiar, out onto the wild sea of a pagan world, there to be a fisher of men. Surely when he paused, he must have been astonished at the difference this Jesus had made.

St Andrew’s subsequent life isn’t recounted in Scripture. It’s found, or obscured, in traditions and legends. They’re many: that he created a Christian community in what was later Constantinople, or evangelised the great area called Scythia to the north and east of the Black Sea and which stretched to what’s now Kazakhstan, or that he sailed up the River Don (the Russian one!), or more likely preached in Greece and was martyred there, crucified indeed, in Patras, now the 3rd largest city of Greece and home to a large Cathedral in his honour.

The late Orcadian poet, George Mackay Brown, wrote A Song for St Andrew’s Day imagining that, not just St Andrew’s relics, but St Andrew himself made it all the way to Scotland.

‘The world is wide, to cast nets in.
The Holy Spirit
Fills his coat like a sail.

He speaks to fishermen on the Alpine lakes,
He lingers by Belgian rivers,
They listen, rough Breton fishermen,
Minglings of sea-wit, laughter, gull-talk.’
But still further north he goes:
‘Where are you taking me, Spiritus Sanctus?

‘Where are we bound, ruthless dove?’
He lands in Scotland.
‘Well, I am content. This place will do
With sinners, saints, mostly
Gray minglings, like fish in a barrow.
Alba, Pictland, Scotia,
The beach strewn with curraghs and sea-gear.’

It’s a fancy, of course. But doesn’t it capture the difference Christ makes?

And if it’s true he was put to death in Greece, mustn’t Andrew, in those last moments, have looked back in astonishment again? Looked back at the different form his life had taken, the adventure of it, the unexpected experiences, the strange encounters, the tribulations, the outpourings of grace in response to his preaching. Looked back and seen Christ as the reason for it all.  Realised how everything Christ had said from the lakeside on had been verified, how this God-man had remade him and filled him, and now was waiting to receive him? And wasn’t there, isn’t there, more astonishment in store? Like the righteous in the Book of Wisdom, Andrew had been put to the test and proved worthy. And so the promise held: ‘When the time comes for [the Lord’s] visitation they will shine out…They shall judge nations, rule over peoples, and the Lord will be their king for ever.’ Today’s Collect calls Andrew a ‘preacher and pastor’, referring to his apostolate on earth, and then ‘a constant intercessor’, his apostolate in heaven.

The Apostles bring alive the difference Jesus makes.

A little earlier, in his Song for St Andrew’s Day, Mackay Brown has a beautiful line. Andrew has just met Christ risen from the dead, cooking fish by the lake. And the poet asks:

“Where will he go now with his gladness?”

There’s the Christian. There’s the man full of ‘the joy of the Gospel’. There’s an evangelist. There’s a missionary disciple.

“Where will he go now with his gladness?”

Is that me? Is Christ my gladness? Am I ready to go to with that gladness to ‘Alba, Pictland, Scotia’?


RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust.
A registered Scottish Charity Number SC005122