+ ‘we proclaim Christ crucified’
Today we celebrate our patronal feast, Holy Cross Day, and, like many clergy today, I am glad I didn’t write my sermon early in the week, as on Thursday Queen Elizabeth died at Balmoral, the first monarch to die in Scotland since James V in 1542. Since then there has been a vast outpouring of restrained emotion and love and we need to think about her today, perhaps the most significant Christian leader in Britain in the last century, more so than all the bishops and clergy. She was in many ways one of us, the nations favourite granny, but not least in that her own mother was a Scottish Episcopalian.
Our congregation is gathered under the sign of the cross and this, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the core of Christianity – ‘we proclaim Christ crucified’. You can look at the cross in different ways, on the outside as an event in history, or, in relation to us, as an event in history that, in a way we can’t understand, liberated us from sin and evil. You can also look at the mystery of the cross ‘from the inside’, as an act of love and sacrifice that shows us what God is like. Jesus, who is the Son of God, was faithful to his mission even unto death, death on a cross and through this fidelity to his mission he was raised up and we can follow him on this path.
Queen Elizabeth has never hidden her faith, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England that would be hard, but in recent years, as our country became more secular, she was more and more open about it. In 2008 she said: ‘I hope that, like me, you will be comforted by the example of Jesus of Nazareth who, often in circumstances of great adversity, managed to live an outgoing, unselfish and sacrificial life … He makes it clear that genuine human happiness and satisfaction lie more in giving than receiving; more in serving than in being served.’
This is love shown in fidelity to your calling and service of others. Her own remarkable life is a witness to this. During the covid lockdown in 2020 she returned to this theme, with a reference to her favourite parable: ‘We continue to be inspired by the kindness of strangers and draw comfort that – even on the darkest nights – there is hope in the new dawn. Jesus touched on this with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The man who is robbed and left at the roadside is saved by someone who did not share his religion or culture. This wonderful story of kindness is still as relevant today. Good Samaritans have emerged across society showing care and respect for all, regardless of gender, race or background, reminding us that each one of us is special and equal in the eyes of God.’
This is our commitment to inclusive love at Holy Cross. As we give thanks for Queen Elizabeth, we can reflect that we all relate to our Christian faith in different ways and this changes at different times in our life. Today we also pray for our new King, we’ll need to get used to a new version of the national anthem, and he has his own different take on Christianity. In his very moving accession statement he spoke of his commitment to the Anglican tradition which we share but he is also strongly influenced by Eastern Orthodox Christianity, care for creation, mysticism and beauty in art and music. But what can we learn from the late Queen as individuals and as a community called after the Holy Cross?
The cross is the ultimate sacrifice, God dies to save his creation. We are not able to do that but, strangely enough, this monarch is a prime example of a simple, humble, unselfish life, just getting on with her duty. If only there were more like that. I also think that it is significant that there have been so many mentions of Paddington, the Queen’s commendation of kindness and service points the way, ‘what can I do to help you?’, ‘what can we at Holy Cross do to help our neighbours?’
But we are in a new world, the Elizabethan age is over and we could note the Queen already responding to the new secularism by affirming the faith. Looking around we see the Church of Scotland selling off its Churches and no longer in any meaningful way a national church, and in wider society the pernicious idea that to be non-religious is to be neutral. We need to be more confident in our Christian identity and willing to share it with others – invite someone to our new course on the faith. Next, we need to still be here. Thanks to all who have given to our Holy Cross gift day, if you haven’t it’s not too late. Thanks to all who make regular donations to Holy Cross, if you don’t please reflect that if we do not give to our Church it will close like so many others. Finally, we can learn from our new King. Today we celebrate the glory of the cross as the tree of life. Care for creation, help the poor and disadvantaged, go deep into the mystery of faith, have compassion for those who don’t fit in. The King and the Queen can give us a pattern for our Christian life.