Sermon preached at Remembrance Service Matins, Sunday 8 November 2015 by the Very Revd David Ison, Dean of St Paul's Cathedral

Today at the Cathedral View More
8:00am Holy Communion
8:45am Morning Prayer
11:15am Sung Eucharist
3:00pm Choral Evensong
5:30pm Eucharist
6:00pm Cathedral closes

Sermon preached at Remembrance Service Matins, Sunday 8 November 2015 by the Very Revd David Ison, Dean of St Paul's Cathedral

The Dean issues an invitation to stop being ordinary and get in touch with the spirit of Remembrance

‘The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance.’ (Psalm 112)

It was an ordinary day, a grey Monday morning. The buses and taxis roared along noisily, a siren went past, most people walked along with scarcely a look. There were flags and a band and people in formal clothes. A few tourists wondered what was going on and took pictures of something they didn’t quite understand. Just an ordinary day in the City of London.

It was the opening of the Garden of Remembrance by the east end of this Cathedral six days ago. The familiar rituals, the Last Post the poignant words, the British Legion banners; the City of London paying tribute to ordinary people who sacrificed their lives that we might be free to remember. There we were, ordinary people on an ordinary day, recalling the extra-ordinary suffering, sacrifice and loss of war, acknowledging our debt as individuals and as a nation – remembering. And then going back to our ordinary Monday lives.

But we don’t have to go back to the ordinary. We can change how we perceive the world: as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, ‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God; it will flame out…’ – Flame out, for those who will see it.

Most of us will have received at some time what for us has been life-changing news. Someone dies, a baby’s born, a diagnosis has been given, and our ordinary life shudders to a halt: yet other people go past as though nothing has happened, while we want to shout at them and say, Haven’t you noticed that the world has changed? When it happens to you, your world stops being ordinary and becomes a different place, as your life is shaken.

That’s how it was last Monday morning in the Cathedral Garden, for those with eyes to see. It was an invitation to stop being ordinary, and instead to get in touch with the meaning of remembrance, to see the extra-ordinary things which most people didn’t notice. There we stood, at the intersection of life and death, the everyday and the eternal, when ordinary life turns into something quite different, while the rest of the world carries on regardless…

‘The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance’ it says in our first lesson. To be righteous is to live in justice, to be generous and compassionate to those in need. The righteous person models how God is, they bring justice and hope and love to others: that’s how we want to remember them, and that’s how we would like to be remembered.

When someone dies, we want to keep their memory alive. We don’t want them to be forgotten. And what I think we mean is that we want his or her life to have touched and changed the world, to have had a meaning, to have been righteous: that the sacrifices and sufferings that we remember, today and at other times, have made the world a better place.

And yet we also know that, while today we remember, there will come a time when the world moves on and we and our dead are largely forgotten. Forgotten by others that is, but not by God: as Jesus said in our New Testament reading:

‘The nations worry about all these things: but your heavenly Father knows that you need them – so strive for his kingdom, his righteousness, and everything else will be yours as well.’ God in Christ remembers us. Humanity forgets, but God’s memory is eternal.

Keeping the dead in everlasting memory is too big a burden for us to bear, but God can take care of them, and us.

Our task is to entrust our dead to God in faith, to follow their righteous example, to walk in justice and faith through this ordinary world in the extraordinary light of eternity.

Today it’s an ordinary Sunday at St Paul’s. The buses and taxis roar along noisily, a siren goes past; most people walk past the cathedral with scarcely a look. Some hundreds of people are outside and inside the cathedral. There are flags and people in formal clothes. A few tourists wonder what’s going on and take pictures of something they don’t quite understand.

And yet what we do this morning is extra-ordinary – for those with eyes to see.

Jesus told his followers not to worry about life and death. God’s made the flowers of the field more beautiful than King Solomon in all his glorious robes, he said; so how could you think that God won’t remember you?

The First World War chaplain and poet Studdert Kennedy (‘Woodbine Willie’) wrote what Jesus said into a short poem, about seeing God in an ordinary line of walking, wounded soldiers, where in the everyday he suddenly meets the eternal. The poem’s called, ‘Solomon in all his glory’.

Still I see them coming, coming

In their ragged broken line,

Walking wounded in the sunlight,
Clothed in majesty divine.


For the fairest of the lilies,

That God’s summer ever sees,

Never was clothed in royal beauty
Such as decks the least of these.


Tattered, torn, and bloodied khaki,
Gleams of white flesh in the sun,

Raiment worthy of their beauty

And the great things they have done.


Purple robes and snowy linen

Have for earthly kings sufficed,

But these bloody sweaty tatters

Were the robes of Jesus Christ.