“When St. Andrew was brought to the place of his martyrdom and saw the Cross set up, while still some distance away, he began to cry out: ‘Salve crux pretiosa - Hail, precious Cross, consecrated by the Body of my Lord, and adorned with his limbs as with rich jewels. I come to you exulting and glad: receive me with joy into your arms. O bona crux - O good cross, which received such beauty from the limbs of the Lord: I have ardently loved you! Long have I desired and sought you! Now at last I have found you; you have been made ready for my eager soul. Receive me then into your arms. Take me from among men, and present me to my Master: so that he who redeemed me on you, may by you receive me.’
Andrew was then fastened to the Cross. He hung there for two full days, during which time he never ceased preaching the faith of Christ. He even prayed as he hung: ‘Lord, do not let them take me down from this Cross until you have received my spirit’. At last his soul passed over to Christ. Andrew had indeed suffered a death closely patterned on the death of Christ, just as he had eagerly desired.”
This account of the death of St. Andrew comes to us in a work known as the Acts of St. Andrew. That was written in Greek: it survives only in fragments, or in translations into Armenian and Coptic. It’s dated to some time in the late 2nd century: during the age of persecution and martyrdom, while the Church, as we know her, was still, as it were, in her infancy. At that time there was quite a genre of such works. There survive also, from the same period, an Acts of Peter, Acts of Paul, Acts of John and Acts of Thomas. Unfortunately these works may have come from circles of somewhat dubious orthodoxy, and they are much interwoven with legend. In other words, the stories they tell, at least in part, are imaginary fiction. We have no means of knowing now to what extent, if any, they preserve elements of genuine oral tradition about the Apostles. Let us hope that the story of St. Andrew’s crucifixion does do so. At any rate, the Catholic Church holds the story as at least worthy of repetition. The pre-Conciliar Breviary set it for reading in the second nocturn at Matins today. Quotations from it still survive, set to music, in our own Divine Office for St. Andrew’s Feast.
The paradox of Christian rejoicing in pain, suffering and death is set forth to an extreme degree in this text. St. Andrew is said to have cried out in joy when he saw the Cross prepared for him: this horrible instrument of slow torture and lingering death, designed as it was to deter by sheer terror; usually reserved for slaves or the very worst criminals.
How can St. Andrew have so contradicted every natural human instinct of horror in face of pain and death? I’d like to dwell on the answer to that a bit now. We know it well, but it’s good to remind ourselves of how we Christians can endure with patience, and even joy, the pains and troubles that come our own way. Even more so: it’s good to be reminded of the flame of desire for the Lord, and union with him, that we all ought to have; this desire which is itself so utterly desirable, and which turns upside down all the desires and values of this world.
St. Andrew, we know, lived with Jesus for three years in the closest intimacy, as one of the twelve specially privileged disciples. Andrew saw Jesus; he heard him, he watched him, he knew him, he loved him. Christ was the light and joy of St. Andrew’s life. St. Andrew perfectly understood also that Christ is light and joy also for the whole world; and it was his mission to proclaim that. St. Andrew was an eye witness of the events of Holy Week, and of the forty days that followed. He was present in the Upper Room on the day of the Last Supper, and present there also on the day of Pentecost. So Andrew knew of the Lord’s victory over death; of his abiding presence in his Church, in our own hearts, in the Holy Eucharist, in our prayer. He knew that nothing whatever external could ever separate him from the love of God that comes to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Because of all that, Andrew was a man filled with desire: for himself and for others. For himself: Andrew’s only desire was to be ever more perfectly united with Jesus: to come to him and live with him forever in heaven. For others: Andrew longed for them to encounter a convincing witness to Jesus; he longed for people, for everyone, to be brought to faith, to baptism, to life with Christ.
When he saw the Cross, then, St. Andrew saw his passport to the fulfilment of these desires. By the Cross, St. Andrew was able to bear his supreme and ultimately convincing witness to the truth of the Gospel, laying down his life for its sake. By the Cross, Andrew was able to show, to live, in the highest degree, his love for God and for his people. By the Cross, Andrew was able to show his gratitude to God: gratitude for the salvation God accomplished in Christ; gratitude for the life and holiness and love that had poured out from Christ’s Cross, washing away all the sins of the world; drawing us all, in principle, into the adoption of sons; into perfect union with God. By the Cross, St. Andrew was able at last to offer the perfect and final gift of himself, through Christ, with Christ and in Christ, to the glory of God the Father.
St. Andrew cared nothing whatever for comfort, possessions, honour, carnal pleasures, security in this world. Such things had entirely lost their power not only to satisfy him, but even to attract him. He was not interested in them; he was more than ready to abandon them all forever. So he greeted the Cross with joy, because he saw it as the final means for his union with Jesus, and for the fulfilment of his life and mission.
Today we honour St. Andrew for his Apostleship, for his martyrdom, for his heavenly intercession. We believe, we proclaim that Andrew was wise. He was wise to believe in Christ, wise to follow him, wise to rejoice in sharing his sufferings. Today also we pray in particular for the people of Scotland: that the Gospel may be heard again in our own day, and our people brought again to faith in Christ, and to life in his name.