Easter III 2021.
The Duke and the Wounded Church.
The life, death and funeral of The Duke of Edinburgh will have been much in our minds and in our prayers recently. His qualities have been paraded before us by the media and his weaknesses have also been explored but what I wish to do this morning is to explore his ability to spot weakness and make it into an opportunity for these relate to our gospel this morning.
The whole world admires the way Prince Philip has modelled his life to support the Queen in her duties. He belongs to the OSB Club: One Step Behind. As we all know, this came at a great cost to the Prince and his naval career. However, out of this grew three important initiatives which have had a lasting effect upon our culture generally and young lives in particular.
The first initiative is the creation of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme in 1956. It grew out of the Duke’s experience at Gordonstoun School where he discovered discipline and the value of initiative. It also came at a time when post-war youth, with no chance of conscription, could find an alternative to the BP organizations without the need for a uniform.
Secondly, the Duke’s enquiring mind and restless faith wanted to explore the truth behind the pat answers he often heard in sermons. In 1966 he teamed up with The Dean of Windsor to open St. George’s House, a conference centre focussed on the rhythm of prayer and worship in the chapel for leaders of society and senior clergy to discuss at leisure some of the most pressing problems of the day. Courses lasted up to a month and it was an opportunity not only to nurture wisdom through debate but also to show how integrated matters of religion were to all elements of life, business and politics.
Finally there is the Duke’s interest in nature conservation where he was way ahead of his time. He became president of the World Wildlife Fund in 1961 and for its 25th anniversary he took it to Assisi for the celebration, neatly linking the care of nature to the creator God whom he worshipped.
These three concerns – young people, integrated faith and conservation – were all overlooked at the time the duke made them priorities. They were wounds in the side of humanity into which he poured energy and bound them up into something stronger.
Our reading today (Luke 24. 36 – 48) takes us to the end of St. Luke’s gospel and records the appearance of the Risen Lord to the frightened disciples in the upper room. His wounds are still obvious and yet Jesus can greet them with words of peace. There is continuity here between the crucified one and the Risen Lord. The wounds confirmed belief for doubting Thomas but they have been taken as even more important to the emerging church. They saw those wounds as points of future healing. In Peter’s First Letter (2.24) – which is widely seen as a baptism sermon – we are told, ‘By his wounds you have been healed’.
The duke’s vison embraced the weaknesses of his day and made them stronger. He was drawn to them, sympathized with them, saw their potential and built them up. I have known clergy who were so wounded that their hope of preferment was small but because of their weaknesses they made great pastors.
The Wounded Church.
In a good year, we would hope to take a summer holiday high up in the Swiss Alps, on the edges of a ski resort called Anzere. Each Sunday we would join the main mass of the day. It was a modern church with a striking crucifix hanging over the altar, showing the crucified one with his body lacerated all over with gashes. It was not a comfortable sight – and neither is our current church with its obvious defects: child-abuse, racism, sexism and many other isms, including you and me.
There is an important truth here: the crucified body was not perfect; the risen body still bore the wounds and now The Body of Christ, The Church, is very obviously not perfect. Through his wounds, the Risen Lord can identify with our weaknesses. How can we make them our strengths? Think how odious the church would be if it were perfect! Who would identify with it? And yet there are elements in church and society who want a perfect church and use it as a reason not to get involved.
As a church we must be aware of our weaknesses and seek to build them up, just like the duke did in his vision to strengthen society as he saw it. Our aim is to be perfect just as our heavenly father is perfect and to cling to that vision. But perfection is different for each of us, just as a full egg-cup differs from a brimming reservoir.
One of the most painful symbols for me in the Christian Church is the breaking of bread at the heart of our Eucharist. Yet, if the body is not broken, others cannot share. It challenges our narrow parochialism, our poverty of passion, our reluctance to invite others to the party. These are some of the weaknesses I can identify. You will have your own observations. How do we turn them into our strengths? Amen.