Saint Andrew, carved by Edward Smith, crowns the portico of Saint Andrew’s Church in Westland Row, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Readings: Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 19: 1-6; Romans 10: 12-18; Matthew 4: 18-22.
Today is the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle [30 November 2018], the first-called of the disciples. Before he was called, Saint Andrew was a fisherman, an every-day ordinary-day commercial occupation, working on the Lake of Galilee in partnership with his brother Simon Peter. He was a disciple of John the Baptist, and it is said that when Saint John the Baptist began to preach, Saint Andrew became one of his closest disciples. The story goes that Saint John the Baptist then sent two of his own disciples, the future Saint Andrew and Saint John the Evangelist, to Christ, declaring Christ to be the Lamb of God.
The hymn ‘Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult’ (no 584, Irish Church Hymnal), is usually sung to the tune ‘Saint Andrew’ by Edward Henry Thorne. It was written in 1852 by Mrs Cecil Frances (‘Fanny’) Alexander (1818-1895), whose bicentenary is being marked this year. She intended it for use on Saint Andrew’s Day, and in this hymn she takes up many of the questions posed by Saint Andrew’s call, life and mission.
The tune, Saint Andrew, was written by Edward Henry Thorne (1834-1916) for the hymn’s inclusion in the second edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1875).
When he heard Christ’s call by the sea to follow him, Saint Andrew hesitated for a moment, not because he had any doubts about that call, but because he wanted to bring his brother with him. He left his nets behind and went to Peter and, as Saint John’s Gospel recalls, he told him: ‘We have found the Messiah … [and] he brought Simon to Jesus’ (John 1: 41, 42).
Tradition says Saint Andrew was so obstinate and so stubborn at his martyrdom in Patras, in today’s western Greece, that he insisted on being splayed on an X-shaped cross. He said he was unworthy to be crucified on a cross of the same shape as the one on which Christ had been crucified.
Unlike the other disciples named in today’s Gospel reading – Peter and James and John, the sons of Zebedee – Saint Andrew never gave his name to an Epistle, never gave his name to a Gospel. But Saint Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles, truly took up his cross and followed Christ. And he called others to do the same.
His stubborn and obstinate commitment to mission, to travelling for the Gospel, has made him the patron saint of mission work and the patron saint of Constantinople, Greece, Romania, Ukraine, Russia and Scotland.
That stubborn and obstinate commitment to Christ, to the point of a martyr’s death, makes Saint Andrew an appropriate saint to start off the Church Year at the beginning of Advent on Sunday next. As our recent Sunday Gospel readings have reminded us, Christmas is meaningless without looking forward to the coming of Christ again in glory.
As we prepare for Advent and prepare to wait for the Coming of Christ, are we prepared to leave behind the nets of yesterday and not get caught up in them?
In recent years, I have taken the opportunity provided by working visits to London to visit the surviving churches built by Christopher Wren. One of these churches, Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe on Queen Victoria Street, is two blocks south of Saint Paul’s Cathedral and close to Blackfriars station, and is the last of Wren’s city churches.
The church was destroyed by German bombs during the London blitz in World War II, and only the tower and the walls survived. The church, which was designated a Grade I listed building in 1950, was rebuilt and rededicated in 1961.
The plain design of Wren’s last city church attracts very little attention, despite its simple grace. With its rectangular body and unembellished tower, Saint Andrew’s presents a no-nonsense image to the outside world. Its warmth is all on the inside, where a wealth of woodwork carved in traditional style adds a wonderfully restful feel.
Saint Andrew’s stands on a terrace overlooking Queen Victoria Street, its plain red-brick exterior contrasting with the stone buildings on either side. It is a complete reconstruction nestling within Wren’s walls.
As the bitter weather of winter begins to close on, I am reminded of this prayer, appropriate for Advent and this winter weather, which I found at Saint Andrew’s and which the church offers for people who have no shelter on the streets:
God of compassion,
your love for humanity was revealed in Jesus,
whose earthly life began in the poverty of a stable
and ended in the pain and isolation of the cross:
we hold before you those who are homeless and cold
especially in this bitter weather.
Draw near and comfort them in spirit
and bless those who work to provide them
with shelter, food and friendship.
We ask this in Jesus’ name.
who gave such grace to your apostle Saint Andrew
that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ
and brought his brother with him:
Call us by your holy Word
and give us grace to follow without delay,
and to tell the good news of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Post Communion Prayer:
may the gifts we have received at your table
keep us alert for your call
that we may always be ready to answer,
and, following the example of Saint Andrew,
always be ready to bear our witness
to our Saviour Jesus Christ.
The cloister-like colonnade on the north side of the former Saint Andrew’s Church in Suffolk Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)