Dean - The Very Reverend Andrew Nunn
Lamentations 3. 22–26; 31–33; Romans 5. 5–11; John 6. 35–40
At the very end of this Eucharist the choir will sing the final part of the Requiem. In paradisum, as it’s called, ends with really poignant words
May the chorus of angels receive you and with Lazarus once poor may you have eternal rest.
It’s an amazing thing to sing following the death of a prince. The Lazarus mentioned is not the friend of Jesus who he brings back from the dead, not the brother of Mary and Martha but instead it’s the Lazarus who is the poor man in St Luke’s Gospel who lay at the gate of the rich man.
It’s a reminder to us, in a very powerful and profound way, that death is a great leveller. Though life can deal us very different hands it doesn’t matter in the end whether you’re a prince in a castle or a homeless person here on the streets of Southwark, death comes to us all, with equal brutality, equal finality and the riches and the rescue of God also come in the same way.
As Jesus says in our Gospel reading in words particularly powerful in this Easter season
‘This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.’
This is the promise for each of us here and when, to use St Paul’s language, when this tent in which we dwell is rolled up, we are brought into something glorious, ‘swallowed up by life.’
It has been a wonderful privilege to be able to welcome Prince Philip to this Cathedral on four occasions over the last 21 years that I’ve been here. The first occasion was on Millennium Eve when he and Her Majesty The Queen came to say their prayers on the way to the Dome for midnight with the Blairs! It was an unforgettable evening for us all.
Then they both came again in 2006 when the Chief of the Mohegan tribe joined us from his lands in New England to remember his forebear who had attempted to have an audience with Queen Anne and never managed it but was buried here. It’s a very long story!
Then in 2013 the royal couple came again this time to see the Diamond Jubilee window in the Retrochoir, when the Queen met Doorkins the cat and the Duke was rather mystified by the modern glass. They came here after visiting the Shard, which by all accounts Prince Philip so much enjoyed that he almost missed his express lift back down with the Queen, much to her amusement.
Finally, he came on his own to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare in 2016, an amazing service weaving together scenes from the plays with scripture and music. It was a proud moment for us and for the Globe Theatre on Bankside where he was patron, though the Duke was surprised to find the Bishop of London here, Richard Chartres, outside his jurisdiction. We reassured him that it was ok!
On each of those occasions Prince Philip was fascinated by what was going on, asking questions of everyone, intrigued by the detail, the little things – the verges the vergers here carry, for instance – as much as the big things.
So much has already been said about Prince Philip since his death on Friday and I’m sure yet more will be said. He was a remarkable person and we’re very conscious that his death, as Her Majesty was reported as saying, has left a void in her life and in the life of this nation and the Commonwealth. The earthly tent has been rolled up and it leaves a space where it was pitched.
But it is that phrase of St Paul’s ‘that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life’ that I find so inspiring.
The Duke was someone who lived life to the full, but for him, as for all the departed, there is yet more to come, life is not just for now, but for eternity, and the frailty and the fragility that can come upon even the strongest of individuals is eclipsed by the freedom and fullness of resurrection life. Death and the grave do not swallow us up but life itself.
In all the images that we’ve seen of Prince Philip over the last few days there’s one that has haunted me. Not the handsome young naval officer, not the groom with his regal bride, not the Consort kneeling at the feet of his Queen and swearing his loyalty, not the kilted father in the grounds of Balmoral with his children, not the older man celebrating years of marriage, nor a retiring Prince taking the final salute on the doorstep at Windsor. It was the picture of him as a little boy, rootless, homeless, the security of family having been shattered, looking like so many child refugees seeking a place of stability. 18 months old, sleeping in a cot made from an orange box, rescued by the Royal navy – it sounds very familiar.
Perhaps there’s not much difference between Lazarus, once poor and Philip, maybe more equal than we imagined, both swallowed up in life, finding true equality in the eyes of the God who created them and loved them, who created you and loves you. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.