A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
A reflection upon the Tomb of King Edward II in the light of the Feast
Today we are marking the last Sunday in the Church Calendar, and through the past year, as with every year, we have been on a pilgrimage, a pilgrimage visiting through our scripture readings, our worship, the milestones in the history of our faith, – creation, prophecies, defeats, victories, birth, death, resurrection – and today, we are concluding that pilgrimage with a celebration. The celebration of Christ the King, the celebration of victory, the celebration of the realisation of God’s promise. Christ the King – I wonder what sort of picture that conjures up in your mind.
Gloucester Cathedral contains one of the finest and most beautiful monuments in the country, a monument that was erected during the time when the building was not yet a Cathedral but the Abbey of St Peter; a monument that marks the burial place of a King of England; a monument that was the focus of pilgrimage from the time of its erection in the mid 1300s and a monument that in truth saved the Abbey building from being razed to the ground at the Dissolution of the monasteries and instead, caused it to have the honour of being created a Cathedral by King Henry VIII- our Cathedral of the Holy and Indivisible Trinity. Of course the monument I am referring to is that of King Edward II – a king who was not a very effective monarch, a waster in fact and very much a lover of worldly pleasures; a king whose memory has been tarnished by his enemies as being a man of dubious morals.
Nevertheless within a short while after his funeral which took place in what was then the Abbey, crowds flocked to visit his tomb and the rich, the mighty, the famous and the poor came to look, to pray and to make repentance offerings, money, jewels, gold silver – all in an attempt to express their personal regret at being part of the establishment that had allowed its own king to be brutally murdered, not in battle, but by his own countrymen. Their visit, their pilgrimage did not condone the actions of a weak king, but rather made public proclamation of their sorrow and regret that their inaction had allowed one anointed with the oil of chrism, chosen by God, to be so brutally taken from them. Their pilgrimage was one of sorrow and repentance.
As I was reading today’s Gospel in preparation for writing this sermon, I couldn’t but help see a parallel between what I was reading and what I have just shared with you – not a parallel between Christ and Edward, but a parallel between the response, the reaction of the people to the death of Edward and the death of Jesus- the criminal on the cross alongside Jesus, and the crowds of pilgrims who flocked to the tomb of Edward II.
There is in fact a similarity in that the pilgrims felt somewhat guilty for Edward’s death and wanted to show their regret at having been part of such a criminal act, and the criminal on the cross felt the same, recognising the innocence of Christ and the injustice that was being meted out to one whom he, at the last moments in his life, recognised and acknowledged as King – Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.
What are our responses to Christ’s kingship? What is a king – a person of royal birth, a ruler, a person with power and authority, a person who commands respect – or maybe disrespect – a person in front of whom one stands in awe? When we talk about Christ the King, what are saying? Our OT reading gives us a very clear indication of how the early kings of Israel were seen – as leaders -who would lead and protect their people and bring them to victory. Jesus was not in that mould in the eyes of the people of his time. He was not the conquering king but the servant king, not one to conquer but to convert, not one to dominate but one to liberate not one to rule but to serve and the paradox is that he died the death of a criminal , his throne was a wooden cross, not a wonderfully sculptured tomb like Edward II’s.
He died the death of a criminal while reigning from the cross.
We sing about the cross as an emblem of suffering and shame – which it was indeed for those who were guilty of breaking the law, but for Christ the King, a strange throne indeed. But it is this very strangeness, this crude image of suffering and pain, that inspires and draws people of all colours and nationalities to unite under the banner of faith and come each week the world over, to kneel in penitence and faith at His Monument, the cross.
A simple monument , universally recognised and seen by Christians of all denominations not as an emblem of shame but as a monument of glory to which Edward’s tomb pales in insignificance.
The people of Jesus day allowed their expectations to destroy the very thing that they were hoping for. And it took the words of a criminal who had probably never given a thought about the after life, to hand down to us the acknowledgement that we are invited to proclaim – Jesus is King.
It is a wonderfully moving thing to recall the words of that criminal on the cross, the second one who at the end of the day got far more than he bargained for. He asked Jesus ‘Remember me’, and in return he received a place in the kingdom, the kingdom of which we are all invited to be citizens .