The Cross of St. Andrew
As this is the last St. Andrew’s Day that I will celebrate with you, I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on the person we know as St. Andrew and how he came to have such a prominent place in the history of Scotland and the Scottish church.
It is believed that Andrew was born between AD 5 and 10 in the village of Bethsaida – the principal fishing port in the region of Galilee. His parents were Jona and Joanna. Jona and his friend Zebedee were business partners, and their sons were coming into the family business. Jona had at least one other son besides Andrew – the one known as Simon who was later renamed Peter. Zebedee had two sons that we know of – James and John. It is also believed that Andrew had a strong sense of curiosity. No doubt this curiosity would have led him to inquire into many subjects and would have led him to be attracted to the one known as John the Baptist. Andrew – along with John – were followers of John the Baptist. According to the Gospel of John, he was present when John the Baptist pointed out Jesus and called Him the Lamb of God. And while the story of the calling of the first disciples as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels speaks of no previous encounter with Jesus, it is believed that this may not have been the case.
It is also interesting that Andrew – while not someone who gets much press in the Gospels – is considered by many scholars to be the first person to become a follower of Jesus. Andrew is so excited to meet Jesus that he immediately goes and gets his brother Simon and brings him to meet Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to imagine the story of the disciples and their life with Jesus without Peter. Yet if not for Andrew and his enthusiasm, Peter may never have come to know Jesus. And while Andrew never seems to become a prominent figure in the early church, he does make critical contributions to the ministry of Jesus. First we know that he brings Peter to Christ; but he also is the one who brings the Gentiles to Christ. Philip is the disciple who hears that they want to meet Jesus, but it is Andrew who makes it happen. Andrew is also the one who finds the young boy with the loaves and fish and brings him to Jesus. His curiosity comes through though when he questions whether such a small amount of food could possibly feed such a crowd. One author speculates that Andrew’s charming personality may have prompted people to reach into their sacks and share their food with others. No doubt Andrew was a warm, caring individual whose concern for others came through time and time again.
Andrew is with the others through all of the trials and triumphs of Jesus’ ministry and is with them on that fateful night of the Last Supper and on the day when they are visited by the Spirit of God in the upper room. But while others rise to more prominent positions within the early church, Andrew seems to just disappear. But this is far from the truth. Andrew – the introducer, the genial welcomer – goes on to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the region known as Scythia. It is also recorded that he spent time along the Black Sea and Dnieper River as far as present-day Kiev and visited many parts of what today we know as Ukraine, Romania, and Russia. It is believed that he was responsible for founding the church in Byzantium – modern day Istanbul. His mission took him to Thrace, Scythia, and Achaia as well as other parts of Greece.
But like many of those first apostles, Andrew did not die quietly in his bed. He was martyred by crucifixion at the city of Patras in the region of Achaia on the northern coast of the Peloponnese. Legend has it that he chose to be crucified on a cross shaped like an X because he did not feel worthy to be hung on a cross similar to that of Jesus. It is also recorded that his limbs were secured by ropes and not pierced by nails. He is said to have lasted three days and to continue to preach the message of the gospel until the end. And so the image of the X-shaped cross became the symbol of St. Andrew and it has been adopted into the flag of many countries including Scotland. It should also be worth noting that Andrew is not only the patron saint of Scotland, but also of Russia, Greece, and Malta.
Like so many things in the early days of the Christian church, there is much speculation over when and how Christianity first made its way to Scotland. But when it came, it came with the spirit of that Apostle whose curiosity, strength and ever welcoming spirit had led so many to faith in other parts of the world.
Following in the footsteps of the one who would become its patron saint, the early leaders of the church in Scotland gave great emphasis to relationship and community. The church was founded and built not on a hierarchy of religious figures but rather on a community of believers sharing the gifts of God with one another, encouraging one another to live in the grace and peace of God with neighbour and nature. For the Celtic church, God was not to be found within the confines of a church building but was to be found and experienced in all of nature and society. To the Celtic church all life was sacred and worth cherishing. They believed that God had not only called them but destined them to be in relationship with Him. The Celtic church believed that redemption was about being reconnected to the presence of God’s glory that remains burning deep within each person and rekindling our lamps for the entire world to see as living examples of Christ living in us. The Celtic church celebrated that God created us in His image and that we are meant to celebrate our lives. Yes, we have flaws, weaknesses, and failures but He has called us to rise above such things and not let them consume our life. We have been called to be children of God, children of the light.
Perhaps it was Andrew’s infectious welcoming quality of bringing others to Christ that first attracted the church in Scotland to adopt Andrew as its patron saint. It is clear that Columba and others like him were people who desired nothing more than to introduce others to Christ. But in doing so their goal was not to add members or to increase the givings. It was to introduce them to the God whose incarnation in Jesus Christ had brought hope and peace to their lives.
Michael T.R.B. Turnbull in an article written for the BBC on St. Andrew remarked that Andrew was a networker. Long before social media made its appearance, Andrew was creating his own face book page and collecting likes wherever he went. Turnbull also mused whether or not Andrew’s choice of a cross in the form of an X was not a sign – a multiplication sign. Andrew may never have thought of it that way but over the centuries his first introduction of his brother to Christ became the first of many introductions he made over his life. That one encounter was multiplied not only in his life but in the lives of all those who followed his example.
And so, we celebrate our patron saint, the one who was best known for introducing others to our Lord. Let us pause to remember who introduced us to the Lord and be thankful for the relationship we share with one another and the community that is ours in this time.