We gather today in this season of Eastertide, in the light of the Paschal Candle, the symbol of the Risen Christ. With sure and certain hope in the resurrection to eternal life we pray for the repose of the soul of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, as he is laid to rest this afternoon.
Ordinarily, there would have been hundreds of people in attendance at his funeral, with tens of thousands more gathered to line the streets and pay their respects. But in these times of restriction, the rites and rituals are, quite poignantly, reduced to the essentials. Our prayers and our deepest condolences are with the Duke of Edinburgh’s family, especially Her Majesty The Queen, his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, family, and friends. In this time of sadness, we look to Christ in whom life is changed, not ended.
So much has rightly been said in praise of Prince Philip since his death just over a week ago. Throughout his long life, he was a man of duty and honour, devoted to his family and to his country. Marked by service and self-possession, he was passionate about what mattered to him, and committed to so many good causes. Described by Her Majesty The Queen as her ‘strength and stay,’ the Duke of Edinburgh was a source of wise counsel and support during a marriage of almost seventy-four years. The love of his family is clear from the beautiful tributes they have paid to him in recent days.
It is said that Prince Philip was not a fan of long sermons, once commenting that the longer one sits listening, on unforgiving pews, the less capable the mind becomes of absorbing anything said. So, heeding his advice, I offer two simple and short reflections from the Scriptures given to us in the liturgy today.
The first comes from the Acts of the Apostles, where the early Church recognised the need to make provision for those less fortunate. Care for the needs of others forms part of the powerful legacy bequeathed by the Duke of Edinburgh. He was associated with close to one thousand charities, both at home and abroad. As a patron, president, honorary member, or associate, he supported technology, education, the environment, and young people, to name only some of his broad interests and concerns. In giving of himself to others, he put his own Christian faith into practice. More people than we will ever know, in fact, more people than Prince Philip could know, have benefited from his kindness and encouragement, not least those disadvantaged and overlooked. What a wonderful testament to a life well lived.
A second reflection comes from today’s Gospel, particularly fitting for a distinguished naval officer. The disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, when the wind grew strong and the sea became rough. Fearful and anxious, they would have been unsure how the future might unfold. These are commonly felt human emotions. Life has challenges for everyone. It brings trials and uncertainties. Whatever we face, we can hear the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘Do not be afraid.’ Prince Philip was carried by his self-evident personal gifts and strength of character. But he also drew upon Christian courage, that spiritual reassurance which comes from Christ: ‘Do not be afraid.’ As a no-nonsense disciple, before the changes and chances life brings, His Royal Highness turned to Christ for the guidance that comes from faith.
Above all today, we unite ourselves prayerfully to Her Majesty The Queen and to The Royal Family at this time of grief and loss. As Christ’s word and presence brought the boat carrying the disciples safely to shore, we pray Prince Philip will be brought safely to his true home in heaven, to experience the truth of the resurrection in all its fullness.
When Her Majesty described her husband as her ‘strength and stay,’ she was quoting from a hymn written by St Ambrose and translated by John Ellerton. We make its words our prayer:
Grant to life’s day a calm unclouded ending,
an eve untouched by shadows of decay,
the brightness of a holy death-bed blending
with dawning glories of the eternal day.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.