In the name of the Father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Today is I think the only day in the cathedral’s calendar when we keep the feast of two of our patron saints at the same time. Today is the feast Day, as of course we know because we hear of this Eucharist, of Edmund Rich, one time Canon Treasurer of this Cathedral, Archbishop, man known for his administrative skills, charitable giving and practical care of his people. As I’m sure you know the patrons of this Cathedral are all identified by having an altar within the liturgical space of this building, and Edmund’s altar is in the chapel which shares the twin dedication to him and to Archbishop Thomas Becket in the North Transept. Two Archbishops sharing one altar which seems faintly appropriate. Today is also the feast day of Queen Margaret of Scotland, whose altar is the left-hand, or North-most altar of the three in the South Transept. Margaret struggled with the twin vocations of calling to the religious life and a calling to marriage, and ended up opting for the latter, marrying King Malcolm of Scotland and spending the majority of her ministry during her marriage reforming the church in Scotland and ministering in acts of charity and piety. She had a particular ministry to the poor and prisoners. She actually outranks Edmund in the national lectionary, but because Edmund has a particular connection to this Cathedral church we give him a leg up and he takes precedence today.
I just want to spend a moment or two today reflecting on the coincidence of these on this day through the lens of Edmund’s scholarly work.
When Edmund was Canon Treasurer here in Salisbury he had a particular ministry of teaching in the Cathedral School. These were presumably before the days when the Canon Treasurer was bowed down by the weight of responsibility for the fabric of the building and the management of the works department, like our current excellent incumbent of that office, and he seems to have had a huge amount of time to spend in the school. His subject specialism was biblical studies, and he was renowned for being able to read the Scriptures both in their literal and allegorical sense, in other words helping people to understand the texts of the Scripture but also the underlying nuances, the common themes, the, if you like, golden thread of hope and glory, of promise and grace which twines its way through the pages of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. And he made it part of his ministry to help the boys, for boys alone they would have been of course, to recognise this when they looked at the Bible or at least when they heard the stories. Edmund wasn’t here for long, because he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury very swiftly after his arrival here, and departed for that ministry, and if you read most biographies of Edmund it is his latter achievements in that office for which he is remembered.
But we here in Sarum Close who remember Edmund of Abingdon today, Canon of this Cathedral, treasurer, teacher and lecturer in our school, the same school (though not the same buildings of course, because the foundation stone of this Cathedral was only laid two years before Edmund arrived, so we all would have been up the hill in the old cathedral and school), but the same school as you girls of our own choir now attend, we remember him I’d like to suggest, as a man who read his Bible. And not only who read it but who recognised what a complicated, difficult, beautiful and challenging book it is. And he recognised that and wanted other people to see that too, and by recognising the complexity and the beauty, to come to love the Bible more.
So here’s one little example. We heard the Beatitudes read this evening, as our gospel reading. Edmund would have known that passage well, as I’m sure most of you do too. What Edmund would also have known, and I don’t know but I bet he used this as an example, is that there is a second set of Beatitudes in the Bible, in the gospel according to Luke. And the major difference between them is that Matthew’s set are all about the spiritual life of the person. Blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the poor in spirit. These are all about character and spiritual life aren’t they? Being poor or rich in our spirit. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness. If you go home and look up Saint Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, you don’t find the same spiritual gloss. Luke puts into the mouth of Jesus: blessed are the hungry. Blessed are the poor. Not the poor in spirit, but the poor. Not those who hunger for righteousness but those who are hungry. And the rest of the Beatitudes are similarly direct and to the point, and rather achingly beautiful. My personal favourite being blessed are those who weep for you will laugh..
On this day when we remember Edmund, our Treasurer, a teacher at our cathedral school, a man who loved and studied the Bible, we remember that Christianity must always be lived out in practical action. We cannot be those who long for righteousness unless we actually feed the hungry. We cannot be those who pray for a richness of spirit if we do not seek to help the poor to lift themselves from poverty. Queen Margaret of Scotland knew that, and so she dedicated her whole life to care for the poor, for the prisoners, for those who experienced a life completely different to the Royal one to which she was lifted. She was someone who recognised in the call of Jesus the call of the King who kneels in humility and washes feet. Which is another Bible story that we can be pretty sure Edmund taught to the choristers as well.