Homily given at Holy Communion on the Third Sunday of Easter 2023

Today is the day we traditionally honour St George.

The Venerable Tricia Hillas Canon Steward and Archdeacon of Westminster

Sunday, 23rd April 2023 at 8.00 AM

Today, April 23, is the day we traditionally honour St George.

He is thought to have been a soldier living in Palestine at the beginning of the fourth century and who was martyred at Lydda in about 303 at the beginning of the Diocletian persecution. George became known throughout the East as ‘The Great Martyr’.

Some ten centuries later George replaced our own Edward the Confessor as patron saint of England. How admirable the values we attribute to George: discipline, honour, and faithful service, along with the diversity he represents, and above all his willingness to offer everything, even his very life, for his faith.

How much we would hope that all these might inspire our nation, not just on St Georges Day, 23 April, but throughout the year.

How tragic then that thirty years ago, at around 10.40 pm on April 22, just hours before the start of St George’s day that year, Stephen Lawrence, a promising eighteen-year-old black British teenager with dreams of being an architect was pursued and fatally stabbed in a racially motivated attack.

Following on from a number of other racist killings, Stephen’s murder shocked the nation. Furthermore, the response from the authorities, and especially their treatment of Stephen’s family, led to a report which challenged this country to examine itself closely and to ask ‘who are we?’ and ‘where do we go from here?’

It is clear from very recent incidents and investigations presently underway that, very tragically, these questions have not gone away.

Speaking on the fifteenth anniversary of Stephen’s death, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, spoke of the fragility of our human lives which he described as ‘vulnerable to chance and violence, shattered by prejudice and rejection’.

In this Easter season we remember the fragility of our human lives was embraced and taken up by God in Jesus Christ. Jesus, who also at a tender age—just thirty-three—was brutally killed by violence and oppression. Jesus, the Good Shepherd who willingly laid down his life for his sheep. It is to this Jesus we turn when contemplating what befell St George the Martyr and Stephen Lawrence who endured pain whilst suffering most unjustly, as the writer of the first letter of Peter referred to.

Today, as we remember the worst we as humanity can do and the fragility of our human lives, we also remember the best, all who will discipline themselves to endeavour and to raise funds for good causes as they run through the streets in the forty-third London Marathon.

Today we entrust Stephen, who lost his life on a London Street, the martyr George, who gave his life, and all who strive to make a difference for good, to Jesus, the Risen one, who took frail human flesh, suffered but overcame, even death. May we too press on towards the finish race with confidence, surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses as these. Amen.