Sermon by Canon Adrian Ling CMP, Sunday 11th April
Gospel: John 20:19-31
The Duke of Edinburgh may well be remembered as one of those people who we did not appreciate until after their death. In these last few days we have been reminded of his steadfast qualities: how he was ‘the strength and stay’ of the Queen; his sense of duty and public service was as rock-solid as that of the Queen; he had a progressive outlook helping to modernize the monarchy and make it move with the times; he was an early champion of conservation and the protection of endangered species; and he did so much to inspire the aspirations of young people through his award scheme.
His approach was no-nonsense, and his speech direct which was at times challenging. When asked by a journalist if he was disappointed by the behaviour of some of his children, he replied, ‘what did you expect us to do, strangle them at birth? However his humorous light touches could also help to put people at ease.
We should, I think, be thankful for people who speak their mind, who ask the awkward questions that others dare not ask, people who refuse to be drawn into ‘groupthink.’ In that, the duke had something in common with St Thomas who, absent from the upper room when the risen Lord appeared to the other apostles, refused to be drawn into what must have seemed like hysteria, saying ‘unless I see the holes in his hands and put my finger in the wound in his side I refused to believe.’ He wanted proof. Earlier in St John’s gospel Jesus had told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them and that they knew the way to the place where he was going. They must all have been baffled by this statement but it was Thomas who spoke up with the obvious question, ‘Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’
The Duke of Edinburgh, frequently got into trouble because of his humorous quips, which were misinterpreted. When he told an English chap in Hungary, ‘don’t stay too long or you’ll get a pot belly’, the media took it to mean he was saying that Hungarians were fat, but what he was actually referring to was the lavish hospitality with great quantities of food that had been provided during the state visit. The media does like to manufacture controversy, to stir up more public interest. However fear of what the press might write did not silence the duke.
We are renowned as a nation for our ironic sense of humour. Satire plays a role in cutting the important down to size, and giving us an alternative perspective helping us to see things as they really are.
Freedom of speech in this country, and around the world is being curtailed, where we have the ‘cancel culture’ imposed on writers like JK Rowling because their views offend a certain group. Was it racist of the Duke to say to the president of Nigeria wearing traditional dress, ‘you look like you’re ready for bed.’? The man in question certainly didn’t think so, he found it highly amusing. A public figure would not get away with that now, it would be a resigning matter.
The question of Thomas, ‘how can we know the way?’ prompted Jesus to say, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’
Jesus himself spoke directly and uncompromisingly. The Letter to the Hebrews states that “ the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” The truth is obscured if we are all over-careful about what we say, if we only say what we think we are supposed to say. The risen Lord leads us into the fullness of truth through the Holy Spirit. For, as St John tells us, ‘The Spirit is the truth.’ And we must speak the truth in love.
Jesus declared to Thomas, ‘how blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’ Prince Philip, like the Queen, was a man of steadfast faith and was also well-versed in theology. He has fought the good fight, he has run the long race set before him. Let us give thanks for his life of service to this country and the Queen. May he now receive his eternal reward.