It has been an extraordinary week in the Cathedral
From the moment the news of her late Majesty's death broke and long established plans were activated, my overriding sense has been of the sheer privilege of ministry here at such a time as this.
Of course we know, always, that we have a role beyond ourselves as a gathering place, a theatre of memory for the whole city and beyond, but this has been heightened as thousands of visitors have made their way through our doors or into the ruins.
They trust us with so much.
With their feelings of grief and disorientation, as our national landscape shifts once again, after all the traumatic changes of the past few years. With the newly-awakened resonances with earlier experiences of bereavement always revived by each successive loss. With story after story of their encounters with the Queen, perhaps here in Coventry or sometimes, for the favoured few, a proud memory of a royal garden party.
Actually, it’s noticeable how often food has featured in the memories, from the tiny, perfect cucumber sandwiches of the palace garden parties, to the pot of home-made jam Her Majesty was so very delighted to receive from a Maundy Pensioner here in the Cathedral, and of course there’s Paddington and the marmalade sandwich too.
My own favourite tale is of a nervous guest at a state banquet, who, dry mouthed with terror at finding himself at table with Her Majesty, grabbed and drained the finger bowl intended for a discrete wash between messy courses. The Queen, hospitable to her core, immediately picked up her own bowl and did the same, protecting her guest from any embarrassment and demonstrating that kindness which so many have spoken of in recent days.
While I’m sure she insisted that her children learn that table manners matter, she, so often the guest of honour, demonstrated that day that making others feel welcome matters yet more…
Of course, people sought a connection with the Queen. She represented so much that was good in our national life, and her constant presence became for many a rock on which to rely in turbulent times. That need for connection, is, I think, part of what motivates those waiting patiently in The Queue. They long to say “I was there”...to find a place for a moment for their own complicated feelings of gratitude and pride, love and loss...Others simply want to stand in solidarity with their neighbours, as even in death the Queen fosters community, bringing people together once again, helping them to feel that they belong, have a part in our national life.
Welcome. Connection. Community.
Such important themes - aspects of being human that touch us all, whatever our rank or status.
Aspects of being human that, at its best, the Church can model too…
Because of course, the Church exists as a sign in the here and now of God’s Kingdom that is for all time, and all places.
And at the heart of our worship and at the heart of our hope is – another meal
I am the bread of life...Whoever comes to me will never be hungry
That’s an invitation that is always open...It may not arrive on a gilt edged card, but that’s OK because here there are no VIPs, and actually there’s no need to queue, no fear that there may not be room for all
“Anyone who comes to me, I will never drive away”
As we gather this morning to make Eucharist, as our community forms and re-forms at the altar, we each receive the same extraordinary gift – God’s very life, entrusted to us in that precious fragment of bread and sip of wine.
Here we practice on earth as it will be in heaven…
Here, indeed, we become for a moment caught up in the heavenly banquet, with angels and archangels ….
Week on week we affirm “We believe in the Communion of Saints” - and that is never just a reference to a closed catalogue of those canonised by the Church. whom we revere for the strength of their faith, the beauty of their lives.
The Communion of Saints is all those – ALL THOSE – who share in the eternal banquet of the Lamb…
Those whom we love and miss...Those whom we have not yet known, whose hope is in Christ, and with whom we are therefore united in community.
Great and small, famous and obscure
Elizabeth II and Chris Kaba.
The Catholic theologian Margaret Hepplethwaite, widowed very young, talked about her deep sense that it was when she came forward to receive Communion that she was able to share a meal with her beloved Peter. She knew as the knelt and received that he was close at hand..part of the same celebration…his eternal life ensured through Christ’s promise that he would “lose nothing of all that is given to me, but raise it up on the last day”
That is the promise that sustained Her late Majesty through her own experiences of loss and grief.
That is the promise that we offer, as a Church, whenever we hold the light of Christian hope aloft at a funeral.
That is the promise that we claim, you and I, as together we feast on the bread of life.
In recent days it has been a comfort for many, and a gift for preachers, that our late Queen had become increasingly open about her own deep faith. I like to imagine her penning these words with the hope that they might speak to her own family when her time came to leave. Listen
“We are all visitors to this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love, and then we return home. “
THEN we return home. The fragile earthly tent of mortal life was never intended as a permanent residence. We are just passing through, and what looks to us like death is the moment when we are, as Paul puts it, swallowed up by LIFE, when we can leave behind our campsite here and go forward to claim the place prepared for us.
As C S Lewis wrote, in the final paragraph of “The Last Battle”
“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
This is reality.
This is home
And at that homecoming, see, the table is set and the feast is ready.