Sermon given at Sung Eucharist on the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity 2022

Honest and the knowledge that a different sort of community exists in God and can be ours.

The Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle MBE Dean of Westminster

Sunday, 25th September 2022 at 11.15 AM

Not very surprisingly, I have been asked over and over again about my impressions of the State Funeral on Monday.  I'm glad to tell you can that I have been utterly consistent in my answer. I have been absolutely and consistently incoherent. The Abbey was a still centre on an extraordinary day of colour, sound and movement.  All that panoply, all that pageant. It was a firework display, constantly shifting, a brilliant pattern of moments glimpsed and then gone. People met, conversations had, processions, prayers, choirs and the sound of trumpets, uniforms orders of chivalry, heads of state, our King and his family, a sense of privilege, a sense of responsibility, a thread of anxiety. On and on it went - it was a kaleidoscope. I still find it impossible to string a narrative together.

That said, three particular moments give me pause. The first was as I stood, suddenly alone, with minutes to go, on the step outside the west door waiting for the gun carriage. It was briefly quiet and there was no movement. Slowly though the sound of the massed pipes of the Scottish and Irish regiments swelled and got steadily closer. Then I could see them and the College of Heralds following, all coming towards our door. I had to move or be trampled down by Maltravers Pursuivant Extraordinary. There was a glimpse of all that we were gathering in, that startling assembly of people, all those responsibilities and roles. All that distinction and difference, made into one community with common purpose. The Abbey holding what few places could hold. 

That was one moment in the funeral. There was another that struck me as I took my seat. Sitting where I sat, I had the Queen’s coffin to my right and a strong sense that the same distance to my left was the Shrine of King Edward the Confessor, and, around him, King Henry III, King Henry V, and Queen Eleanor and more besides.  In the Abbey we held the Queen in faith and in our and her long history. The Queen, her life and her death, in history. 

And finally, a thought that recurred again and again as the liturgy rolled on. For days before the funeral in newspapers, and on television, we spoke of the late Queen’s life and character.  We paid tribute to her as we should.  On Monday though, the language shifted, right from that first sung sentence ‘I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord.’ Now and suddenly we stitched Her Majesty into a longer story, the story that begins with creation and ends in judgement, redemption and glory.  A story in which she has a place and so do we.  Did you notice that she became our ‘sister’ in that service?

We may rest in him, as our hope is this our sister doth.

The Queen coming here as one of the community of the saints, and as a sinner like us all. The Queen as a child of the Father.  The Queen in our prayers. The Queen in eternity.

That is something of what we did on Monday.

In this week that has been unlike any other I had to begin there, with the State Funeral. It has been dominant this week.  Yet that day also serves as an introduction to our first reading this morning.  The reading in which we heard the Prophet Amos saying Alas for those who are at ease in Zion.

Now here, we really do encounter the long story. Amos lived round about 750 BCE.  Something close to the country we call ‘Israel’ was divided into two kingdoms ruled by Uzziah in the South and by Jereboam II in the North. These were years of wealth and plenty when the cap on bonuses was lifted. Some prospered.

You have built houses of hewn stone… you have planted pleasant vineyards, (Amos 5:11)

That is Amos looking around and taking note. He looked at the nations and did what we assume prophets are supposed to do.  He sucked his teeth and said it could not last. He proclaimed death and disaster.  How they must have rubbed their hands in glee in Gilead as he began to denounce the godless nations all around, how they would have thrilled as he described the judgement of our God. 

I will send a fire on the house of Hazael, and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad… I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod, and the one who holds the scepter from Ashkelon (Amos 1:4-8)

Amos knows that God is the God of all nations, he rules over all, he judges all. That is one of the themes of the Book of Amos, that God frames all history, God is beginning and ending. Here is that long story of faith from creation to salvation, a story for all time and all people.

Amos, though is not done. Amos gets very specific. The wrath of God, this judgement to come, does not just fall on the people over there, who are foreign and foolish.  Amos turns that baleful gaze on the surrounding streets, on the places we know, the people we know

Thus says the LORD: For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they have rejected the law of the LORD…  So I will send a fire on Judah, and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem (Amos 2:4-5  )

God’s judgement, God’s providence really does embrace all people. We are all part of this story. We too are judged.

Flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not retain their strength, nor shall the mighty save their lives (Amos 2:14)

Why?  For what wrong? What prompts this wrath of God? Amos tells us it is because society has failed and community has collapsed. Do you remember I said that Amos lived in a time of wealth and the days of living the good life? It is there that the problem lies. Not the mere fact of wealth, but the injustice of it, the unfairness, the fact that some are rich, but others are poor.

because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine…  you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. (Amos 5:11-12)

And, says Amos, the bad news is that the moment for repentance has already passed. This judgement is given, this outcome is inevitable. That is the language we heard in our reading. A summons to tell the truth, to acknowledge what is wrong and what must follow. That is the explanation for that language about Alas for those who are at ease in Zion

Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp… (Amos 6:4,5)

So, Amos declares, Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24)

Inequality corrupts, it ruptures community, it tears us apart.  Injustice is a fundamental evil. Amos knew that and we have known it ever since. Martin Luther King famously summoned up Amos,

No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

It was precisely a point about equality, about justice. It was the point that Amos understood and Martin Luther King asserted

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

Justice matters. Equality under God is a self-evident truth.  On Monday, our eyes could fool us. We could too easily look at what we saw and see grandeur, status and hierarchy. That was not the point made here in the Abbey, at the funeral. Here we told the long story that begins and ends in God. It is the story that holds us all, makes brothers and sisters of us all. God has all of us under his mercy, all of us under his judgement, all of us praying for redemption. The Abbey made a single community out of us that day. Our late Queen’s death gave us, in the days leading up to the funeral, a sense of shared identity, a memory we could share, a sorrow we could recognise. Now though, and so very quickly, the community founders, our inequalities and injustices are paraded and we begin to feel our divisions. We look again to Ukraine and to Iran. We wonder about the rich getting richer and the struggles of the poor.

Amos asks two things from us. The first is honesty. We must name what we see, if we see it, we must acknowledge the damage that injustice does, we should declare the judgement of God. The second is to acknowledge just as clearly, that a different sort of community exists in God and can be ours. We should declare judgement and we should name our hope. We have felt it, that different and shard community, sensed it in our days of national mourning. On Monday we gathered here to say something significant about our common life, about a shared identity and our place in faith and history. Can it be that, less than a week later, we will forget? We cannot forget who we are. Amos does not allow it.