Nearly 26 years ago, in November 1992, a fire broke out in Queen Elizabeth’s private chapel at Windsor Castle, eventually sweeping through the state apartments and various other parts of the ancient building. When it was finally contained some 12 hours later, the flames caused extensive damage to the medieval estate. The ancient castle looked pitifully decimated.
Fire can destroy. But as the story of Pentecost reminds us, fire can also renew, refine, reimagine and enlighten.
We watched as flames again blazed at Windsor Castle this past weekend, beginning this time not in the Queen’s private chapel, but in the grand chapel of St. George. The initial sparks coming from an American bishop at the pulpit.
The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, offered the homily at the wedding of Prince Henry (Harry) of Wales and Meghan Markle. The couple invited the black preacher from North Carolina to offer words at their Anglican ceremony. The Los Angeles native bride, herself born to a black mother and white father, was baptized and received into the Church of England last month.
What some news organizations called “the sermon that stole the show,” the homily and its delivery were the subject of both praise and sneer. But style aside, it was perhaps the substance of the oration that caused the most arrest. Antebellum slave spirituals, social justice, global poverty, economic iniquity, the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, and radical hospitality all made an appearance. And the looks on some of the royals’ faces let it be known that the whole thing was a shock.
Curry declared, “There is power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even oversentimentalize it. There is power, power in love…. But love is not only about a young couple. Now the power of love is demonstrated by the fact that we are all here. Two young people fell in love, and we showed up. But it’s not just for and about a young couple who we rejoice with….”
He continued on, later noting, “Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He didn't... he wasn't getting anything out of it. He gave up his life, he sacrificed his life, for the good of others, for the good of the other, for the wellbeing of the world... for us.
That's what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world. If you don't believe me, just stop and imagine.
Think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.
Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.
Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way - unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.
When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.
When love is the way, there's plenty good room - plenty good room - for all of God's children.
Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well... like we are actually family.”
I’ve had a lot of time to ponder over his words. In fact, I’ve watched the homily twice since then. And placed within the larger story of our world, Bishop Curry’s words continue to haunt me.
The Washington Post reported that his sermon came, “following a week that included a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, that claimed 10 lives, the killing of more than 60 Palestinian protesters the day of the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, and the daily hateful rhetoric that has become normative among partisans in our political climate, challenged guests and viewers alike to also imagine a love so powerful that it could change the world.”
Come to think of it, perhaps the Church could do with a little more of this kind of fire. So maybe these flames are worth fanning, first in the castle, and then out to the whole world.