Event Name Sermon given at the Sung Eucharist for the Epiphany of Our Lord 2016
Start Date 6th Jan 2016 5:00pm
Description

The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster

Just over fifty years ago, on 28th December 1965, a remarkable service took place here in Westminster Abbey, to mark the 900th anniversary of the consecration of a church building that no longer existed. The service was televised live by the BBC with a commentary from Ian Trethowan, a heavy-weightpolitical commentator and future director-general of the BBC. The Queen with The Duke of Edinburgh attended the service during which Her Majesty laid flowers on the altar in the Shrine of St Edward the Confessor. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret were here with Prince Charles andPrincess Anne and all other members of the Royal Family. The archbishops of Canterbury and York were joined in the Sacrarium by representatives of the Church of Scotland, the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, splendidly robed, the Free Churches. More than a hundred robed clergy processedin to be seated in the south transept.

The church building whose consecration 900 years earlier was being celebrated was that of St Edward the Confessor, the second known church building on this site, the first having been endowed by the saint's grandfather king Edgar of Wessex in 960. But St Edwardthe Confessor has often been spoken of as the founder of the Abbey, and indeed the church and monastery he built must have been far grander and more lavish than that of his grandfather. They were Norman buildings completed just months before the Norman conquest. Of those buildings almost nothing hasremained for many centuries. All we have now from the 11th century is the Undercroft, for the past hundred years a museum, now a conservation studio, and a small part of the cloister, known as dark cloister, that leads from the great cloister to little cloister.

The celebrations just over fiftyyears ago launched a year in the life of the Abbey, dedicated to the theme One People, that lasted throughout 1966. The year's aim was to recognise and celebrate the diversity that existed within this nation and to draw people into unity, into reconciliation, into harmony together. Twelve years afterThe Queen's coronation, at which only the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was present from the ecumenical fraternity, the representation of other churches was considerable. This was the first time for over four hundred years that clergy of the Roman Catholic Church had attendedworship in the Abbey, and even so not at a senior level. There were no representatives of the new Pentecostal or black majority Churches and no representatives of other faith communities. But the service marked a new stage in ecumenical relations.

I want to ask the question how the idea of One Peoplelooks to us fifty years later and consider it an appropriate theme as we think today on the feast of the Epiphany of our Lord of the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, of the wise men from the East coming to Bethlehem to worship the baby Jesus and of the revelation of the One God and Fatherof our Lord Jesus Christ.

But first I wish to delve back a little further in our history to acknowledge the events of this day 9fifty years ago. Edward, known to history as the Confessor, had succeeded his Danish half-brother Harthacnut as king of England in 1042. He died on 5th January 1066, justa few days after the consecration of the church he had built here beside the palace he had built here in Westminster. The very next day, 950 years ago today, his body was buried in front of the high altar. That same day, king Harold was crowned here. And no doubt the feast of the Epiphany of our Lordwas celebrated. Briefly to complete the story of Edward's burial here, he was canonised in 1161 and his body moved to a new shrine on 13th October 1163, with the king Henry II and the archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket both present. A century later, Henry III had rebuilt the church, and this currentAbbey church was consecrated on 13th October 1269, when the body of the saint was moved to the shrine in which it now lies behind the high altar.

As we think now of 1066, and all that was to happen, with the invasion of Duke William of Normandy following the brief reign of Harold, the question howthe disparate people of this land were forged into One People becomes more focused. 1066 was the last of a millennium of invasions of foreign armies into this land, from that of the Romans onwards. Julius Caesar's forces landed here 55 years Before Christ and again the following year but went away. InAD 43, the armies of the emperor Claudius began the Roman conquest, which was maintained for almost 400 years and changed our history. The early 5th century saw the withdrawal of Roman rule and the arrival of waves of invasions from northern Germany and from Scandinavia. Jutes, Angles, and Saxons quicklyestablished control over modern-day England. From the late 8th century, Viking raids began and continued strongly, though Alfred the Great of Wessex won a notable victory over Viking invaders at the battle of Edington in 878. Thereafter the Danes had control of northern and eastern England, with kingAlfred continuing to rule Wessex. Later in the early 11th century, Cnut the Great united England as a kingdom with Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden, reigning here from 1016 to his death in 1035. Seven years later, Danish rule came to an end with the accession of Edward the Confessor.

So, by theNorman conquest, the 'one people' in these islands were a glorious mixture of Celt, Roman, Jute, Angle, Saxon, Dane and would add to that a vast number of Normans who came to rule and remained. This is one of the reasons why the English language is so rich, with elements from all these inheritances.And, why the English are a mongrel people. This early medieval story renders modest as part of our history the arrival of refugees and other immigrants in the modern era, from the Huguenots of France in the 17th century, to the Jews in the 17th, 19th and 20th centuries, Irish in the 19th century andin the period since the Second World successive peoples from the Commonwealth and Europe come here to build the workforce.

So, has the idea of One People been stretched beyond breaking point? I think not. Diversity and unity need not be in opposition. The fact that now in the 21st century thereis a great diversity of people in these islands from all parts of the world and from all backgrounds, of every world faith and of no faith, does not inhibit the possibility of our being One People. A simple metaphor might make the point. Think of an orchestra, made up of strings and woodwind and brassand percussion: violins and oboes, double basses and trumpets, maracas, xylophones, cymbals and triangles, all playing their part, some holding a tune, others an accompaniment, sometimes different tunes weaving in and out of one another. Sometimes the result is harmony; sometimes discord. But all addsup to make a glorious symphonic sound—at least to some tastes.

We do not have a score or a conductor, but a Queen and Parliament, and an Established Church, all connected, making up the State. And the State has been founded and remains founded on Christian belief and Christian values, whichthemselves through the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ require the Church to reach out in generosity to welcome into fellowship, into harmony, into symphonic unity, all the disparate elements that make up our national community. The task is the same as it was fifty years ago, and the Churchhas had the intervening years to work out what the task demands.

Today, as we celebrate the Epiphany, the manifestation of our Lord to the Gentiles, to the whole world, is the right time fifty years on to commit ourselves afresh to working to build in this nation under God One People.

© 2017 The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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