His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

A Sermon by The Most Rev’d Geoffrey Smith, Primate of Australia & Archbishop of Adelaide

This service was livestreamed on the Cathedral’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/StPetersCathedralAdelaide/videos/866447527414865

The order of service can be viewed here: http://www.stpeters-cathedral.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Solemn-Choral-Evensong-for-HRH-Prince-Philip-18-April-2021.pdf

It’s a great pleasure to welcome you this evening to St Peter’s Cathedral for this thanksgiving service for His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh. I want to thank the Locum Dean, the Reverend Adrian Stephens, and the Cathedral staff, for the arrangements for this evening’s service, and the Graduate Singers for assisting us in our worship.

We gather this evening to do a number of things. First, we come to thank God for the life of Prince Philip. We give thanks for his more than 70 years of marriage to the Queen. For his love, loyalty and support of her and for her and their family. She has described him as her ‘strength and her stay’, and we give thanks for that.

We give thanks also for Prince Philip’s work in his own right. Prince Philip was associated with 992 organisations as patron, president or honorary member. That’s an extraordinary contribution.

In Australia we probably know him best for the Duke of Edinburgh awards. The scheme began in 1956 in the UK and was first offered in Australia in 1959. Since that time over three quarters of a million Australian young people have participated in and benefitted from the scheme.

Much has been written and said about Prince Philip especially over the past week, and as I thought about his life in preparation for this evening the word ‘service’ came very much to mind. He had only stepped back from public life in 2017. Until then he was still fulfilling public engagements. So he didn’t retire until he was 96. I can’t imagine many of us continuing to work until we are 96, even if we could.

Prince Philip’s was an extraordinary record of service. His was a life focussed on service. He gave of himself. Chances are he could have gone off to a quiet life years earlier, but he was steadfast in supporting the Queen in all she did. I understand that Prince Philip fulfilled more than 22,000 public engagements by himself, plus the huge number to which he accompanied the queen. These are mind boggling statistics. They are quite remarkable.

What is significant for us is that incredible service for so long is both an example and a challenge. It is an example to us all. A life well lived focussed on people and causes that really matter. Think of all the good things Prince Philip was able to do for so many people. So many actions for change. So many people encouraged and enabled to keep making their contribution to their community. That’s an example worth following for all of us who have the opportunity.

But in that lies the challenge. A focus on service to the community, service to family, service to neighbour challenges our rather in-built sense of self-focus.

One of the things that has led to ANZAC day growing in popularity over the past couple of decades is its focus on service, of offering oneself for the good of others. Significantly, the popularity of Anzac day has increased over a time when the notion of service, self-offering, taking responsibility for self and others, seems to have been in decline in our community.

Maybe we perceive intuitively in Anzac day something we know in our heart we are missing in ourselves and in our community, and the increased observance of Anzac day is in some ways a sign of the lack we sense, and our desire to somehow grasp what we know is missing.

Perhaps the same could be said for the outpouring of recognition for Prince Philip. We see in his example something we feel might be lacking in us or in our community and we yearn for the goodness and power of the steadfastness, the loyalty and the service we see in him. That’s what we want yet we find it so hard to give.

We do give thanks for his focus on others. His sense of responsibility and faithfulness. And as we do, we ask the question of ourselves. And we ask the question of ourselves for our community: what can we do to help our community to be less self-focussed, self-absorbed and more focussed on serving others and taking up responsibilities that are rightly ours? What can we do to do good and bring good in our families and communities?

As we give thanks for Prince Philip we also pray for his family and for all who grieve for him. We pray they may know God’s peace in this tough time. Prince Philip was an elderly man-99 years old. His death was not unexpected, and yet even then the grief for those who loved him is great, because even though his death was not unexpected nothing could prepare his family for it. So, we do pray for them and we pray God’s peace and strength.

Prince Philip’s funeral was held late last night our time. It was a Christian funeral reflecting Prince Philip’s Christian faith. Prince Philip died within the season of Easter, the great 50 days beginning on Easter day. The message of Easter centres on the resurrection of Jesus. Death could not hold Jesus down. While it looked on Good Friday that death had won the day, death didn’t win after all. Jesus broke through death and into new life.

For Christians that’s a reason for great joy since Jesus was the first to do that. Never before had  death been defeated. That’s also the reason for great hope, since Christians believe that just as Jesus came through death, so will all who are connected to him by baptism and faith.

For Christians that means we can face our future, no matter what it is, with hope and joy. This is reflected in the second Bible reading for tonight from the first letter of Peter, where he says: ‘blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading’.

The resurrection of Jesus also means we can commend Prince Philip into God’s care with the same hope. Prince Philip was not perfect. Prince Philip was not without fault. But perfection is not what counts. Primarily what counts is what God has done in Christ. The invitation is to accept what God has done, and live with the resurrection at the core of our life. So we do commend our brother Philip into God’s care confident in the power of the resurrection.

It is very clear that the past year has not been an easy one for our community. There has been a lot of darkness. As well as the sadnesses and disappointments than in a sense are ‘normal’ in any year, there has been the disruption of Covid19 and the great grief across the world the virus has brought. In Australia we have been conscious of what seems like a long list of failures coming to light: in the military, in aged care, in the community in terms of domestic and family violence, in gender discrimination, and in racism. It’s felt like one failure after another. So even though the death of Prince Philip has been sad and is sad for his family, the opportunity to reflect on his extraordinary life, and feel thankful for his great service has actually brought a bright and positive moment. Something good in public life that we can all share.

Even in his death, Prince Philip’s life has made a positive contribution, and hopefully encouraged us to keep on doing good. It sounds a small thing, a small phrase-‘doing good’, but actually every good thing we do contributes to a good society, a good community and a good nation, which will bring good life to many.

We give thanks for His Royal Highness Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh. We give thanks for truly a life well-lived, a life focussed on doing good in the service of others. We commend him to the mercy of God, and we look forward to his resurrection to eternal life.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.