‘In Mourning and Tears’: Easter Saturday 2021

The Queen and Prince Philip at the Trooping of the Colours.

The title of this post is taken from today’s gospel, Mark 16:9-15, and refers to the disciples when Mary Magdalene went to tell them that the Lord had risen. But as the evangelist remarks, ‘They did not believe her’. It was only when Jesus himself stood among them that they believed. Only the Lord himself can convince us of the joy of the resurrection and our sharing in it.

This morning I had intended to say something about the terrible toll of death and suffering COVID-19 has wreaked throughout the world. So many people are struggling with loss and grief, but the death of Prince Philip yesterday has sharpened my focus, so to say. I went to bed last night thinking of the loneliness of the Queen and the horror public figures must undergo when mourning. Seventy-three years of marriage is not easily forgotten, and one can only hope that the sheer nastiness and deliberate cruelty of some responses to news of his death has not reached her.

I am not, in any meaningful sense, a Royalist (I do not, for example, get excited about titles), but I found much to admire in Prince Philip: he was brave, intelligent, a bookworm (lots of theology on his personal bookshelves), spoke four languages fluently and was an innovator. I can forgive him for eating muesli twenty years before the rest of us, while I applaud his enthusiasm for conservation and his work for young people with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme. Above all, I find his devotion to the Queen, to doing his duty and his capacity for hard work, rather more attractive than the posturing of some younger members of his family. So how do I link his death, the reaction to it and today’s gospel?

We all have in us a capacity to disbelieve, to destroy and to inflict pain on others. Most of the time it is restrained: by grace, by humanity, by sheer pride. The Eleven could not quite bring themselves to let go of their intellectual assurance that the dead could not rise — and as for accepting the testimony of a woman or two disciples who claimed to have met him on an evening walk, well! But when Jesus came to them, then they knew, then they believed.

I think part of the hostility towards Prince Philip shown yesterday stems from a reluctance to accept that we share a common humanity, that no matter how privileged we may be in material terms, we are still creatures of flesh and blood, with feelings. Prince Philip’s childhood was ghastly, but instead of making that an excuse for all kinds of self-indulgence and moral ambivalence, he turned it into the pursuit of integrity and service. Isn’t there a lesson for all of us, especially during this Easter season? We believe in the resurrection, we believe in Easter joy. However negative some of our personal experiences, shouldn’t we be trying to share our faith, our joy, with others — kindly, sensitively, compassionately?

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15 thoughts on “‘In Mourning and Tears’: Easter Saturday 2021”

  1. Joyful. Alleluia. A brilliant post. A glorious picture to select. Thank you. We pray for the Queen – she has so many treasured memories that will make her both weep and smile, and giggle. I hope that she, like me, just doesn’t look at all the nasty comments. She will know who is kind, sensitive, and compassionate so she will find whom she can trust. May she continue to find joy in life, and may the Duke Rest in Peace. Alleluia.

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  2. I had the privilege of meeting HRH as he was the Colonel of the Regiment that I was serving with in the 1980’s. His stature was actually quite small, 5’6 inches. Perhaps because of his age at that stage in his life.

    But he was erudite, funny but respectful of sensibilities when he spoke to a range of young men and women than in training for operations. He had dinner in the Officers Mess and spoke kindly of the Regiment and its traditions (given that he was the Colonel of a number of Regiments) he was obviously well briefed about personalities and our organisation.

    The visit was informal, he came in a Suit and Tie and drove himself in his own London Taxi. A thoroughly decent man, whose love for his family, despite some of the stories portrayed about his treatment of Prince Charles sending him to his old Public School, he was perhaps trying to instil some of the self reliance that he had been obliged to develop by his own fractured upbringing.

    A life to celebrate without the fanfare of military pomp and circumstance, but in reflection and thanks giving for his long life and work for the greater good.

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  3. Gosh Dame Catherine! What a beautiful post. Thank you. I remember the Duke reading the lesson at the Royal Maundy Service and he read it so well and with such feeling and belief, that it has stayed with me as a lesson in the importance of understanding the reading you are doing.

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    • Thank you. A friend told me that the duke had been drawn to Orthodoxy in his later years. I think we tend to think of ‘royal religion’ as being largely conventional, but both he and the Queen have, I think, demonstrated that it goes much deeper than that.

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  4. I think you mean drawn back.Another corker of an article , thank you.
    I read just this morning how he related nature to God/Creator. Long before it was trendy, and, even more remarkable , insisted that the 25th anniversary of the WWF be in Assisi.

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    • Thank you. I think most of Prince Philip’s church-going was in the Lutheran/Anglican traditions rather than the Orthodoxy of his baptism, wasn’t it? He was very young when he went into exile, and famously loathed his Greek connections, but does it really matter. What is clear is that he gave time to religion and thought about it.

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  5. Lovely blog today. I’m no lover of titles either but when I was invited to the Palace for a reception to recognise achievement in education (and very enjoyable it was too) someone asked the Duke if it was true that no one ever forgot good teacher. His answer was ‘I jolly well hope not, otherwise they couldn’t have been listening’.
    I loved that quick thinking, slightly subversive response.

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  6. Thank you, Dame Catherine, well said as usual. I hadn’t realised until I heard it on a news programme yesterday that Prince Philip was so interested in theology and spirituality. We usually just hear about the Queen’s faith which I am sure will sustain her in the coming days. I will be praying that that is so.

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