Richard III & Us

On Tuesday Kate’s Father and I drove up to Leicester to join the queue of people gradually shuffling around the city centre in a snaking chain to enter the cathedral and see the coffin of Richard III before his re-internment on Thursday. Considering the remains inside the small casket are of someone who none of us knew or have any real connection with, it was a strangely moving day. Benedict Cumberbatch caught it well I think when he expressed it as being an event when our history rose from the past to meet us before returning again. I may well reflect more on this before Holy Week is over.

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I was really impressed, however, not only with the dignity and sense of occasion, but also with the way the Cathedral took advantage of the opportunity to connect with those who came. The queue was when we joined it some two hours long. Not long after it looked as if it had reached the four hour length of the day before. That’s a lot of people hanging around. They could have easily been left to it by the church, or complained about by the regular worshippers who were being ‘put out’ for the week. But as far as I could see the church (by which I mean the people there) saw it not as a hindrance, but as a chance to share something of God’s love. We were regularly greeted by smiling church representatives alongside the official event guides. From time to time they would come down the line bringing free drinks and a massive basket of very welcome mints! A particularly cheerful clergyman stood in the middle of the first section of the queueing system chatting to everyone as they passed, and handing out leaflets entitled Richard III & Me. This not only had a section about Richard III and his legacy (the fact that we were here remembering him some 500 years on), but also pondering another King for whom the crowds came out on the first Palm Sunday and his legacy some 2000 years on – what does he have to say to us and how should we respond. Brilliantly written and professionally produced. Very effective and appropriate for the occasion.

The church was supposed to have been closed to the queue during service times, but they had obviously had a re-think and asked themselves both how would they get everyone through if they did that, but, and more importantly, what did it say to those in the queue about how the church saw them. They kept the doors open, and it was during this time period that we passed through, quietly walking through a running service and past the coffin of a king who died 500 years ago. More than a little surreal! Despite the fact the service was ongoing, we weren’t made to feel awkward or resented at all, in fact we were made to feel quite welcome and the preacher was clearly not just speaking to his regular congregation, but us flowing visitors as well, giving us a message to ponder on too.

I came away having been touched by the sense of occasion and by the warmness shown by God’s people there. I also came away challenged to think once more on how our conduct communicates our deepest held values to those around us.

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