Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Saint Edward, King & Confessor

Notes from a Brief Homily on the Feast of Saint Edward the Confessor

Thursday, 13th of October 2011, 7.30 p.m.

Parish Church of SS. Mary and Nicholas, Littlemore, Oxford

Today is the Feast of Saint Edward the Confessor, King of England, a saint close to my heart because he was the patron saint of the parish of Romford, where I served my title as a curate. There are many legends about him, but Edward is most famous for two things (both of which our little congregation in the Little Parish got right) – building Westminster Abbey, and dying in 1066 and so precipitating the Norman Conquest. But there was more to him than that.

He was made a saint very soon after the Conquest, and for a very convenient reason – on his father’s side, he was an Anglo-Saxon, a descendant of King Alfred the Great, on his mother’s a Norman, a relative of the conqueror. So, the invaders and the invaded had someone they could both share. Until Edward III started the cult of the rather more military Saint George, Edward was the Patron Saint of England.

Whether he was quite as pious in reality as the chroniclers record is questionable – he was an enthusiastic huntsman, and his piety seemed to come on a little later in life when he had little freedom, in his own kingdom, to do much else. He was known, for instance, for his celibate marriage to Queen Edith. But she was the daughter of the very powerful Earl Godwin, and it is not impossible that his marital chastity was intended, at least in part, to deny Earl Godwin the chance to be grandfather of a King of England. In the end, he sent poor Edith away to a nunnery, so chastity must have been a lot easier after that. Assuming he ever actually wanted to be unchaste with her in the first place. No one ever thought to ask Mrs Confessor what she thought about it all.

A “confessor” in the Christian tradition of saints is not someone who has a lot of sins and gets round to admitting them, still less a holy priest who has to listen to the whole sorry tale; it is a person who in their life and work embodies in some way the Good News of Jesus. Edward’s greatest claim to this title was that he was a man of peace. It was not always because he chose peace, sometimes he had no other option, but his inclination in those fiery and volatile times was to take the path that led to least harm – yes, to himself – but also to his people.

He built Westminster Abbey to be his tomb, but not his alone, for countless people have since been buried there, and as a monument to the presence of God right in the midst of the political nation. Earls and barons then, and Cabinet Ministers and peers and MPs now, may feud it out, but they do so under the shadow of that great building that shouts from its belfries and its rooftops that God is sovereign, and they have no authority except under God. All are called to prayer, and all are called to judgement on the last day.

Is it perhaps this, Saint Edward’s great legacy to us, that has protected us from the worst of tyrannies in this Sceptred Isle? Has this King of Peace left us with the blessing of the Prince of Peace, who said “Peace be with you”? And might we, as we seek to follow his example give thanks for the times when that Prince has helped us to become peace-makers in our own lives and opportunities?

May our peace-making be our confession of faith in the One who was, and is, and is to come, Christ our Lord, the Prince of Peace. Amen

Richard Haggis
Littlemore, Oxford
October 2011

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