Weekly Reflection – Remember!

26 January 2024

Last All Saints’ Day at Horbury we sang a hymn about the saints of the Anglo-Saxon period – people like Paulinus, Columba, Cuthbert and Hilda. The hymn appealed to me for two reasons. Firstly, because it was set to the tune St Gertrude, which musicians will immediately recognise as Sullivan’s tune for Onward Christian Soldiers – a local favourite of course! But I also wanted to choose the hymn because it focused on saints which are familiar to us, saints who have had an impact on us in a more immediate way than those who perhaps evangelised other lands or served the Lord in other, unrelated contexts.

This week the Church of England celebrates the one saint it has ever officially canonised: Charles, King and Martyr. The Church of England of course recognises saints whose sanctity was accepted prior to the reformation, and saints whose sanctity has since been recognised in the official process which is undertaken by the Roman Catholic Church, but apart from Charles, the CofE has never proclaimed anyone a saint itself.

So why is Charles special? Well, he is special because he is a martyr – in fact we might say he is our martyr. People reading this article may have fallen on different sides in the civil war, but whether you would have been a Cavalier or Roundhead, what is undisputed is that Charles’ death was triggered by his refusal to renounce the episcopacy and the Prayer Book and embrace Presbyterianism. This course of action meant that on the morning of 30th January 1649, Charles was escorted from St James’ Palace to the Banqueting House, where, at about 1 o’clock, he received his fate. His last words have gone down in history: ‘I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown, where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world.’ He then passed his figure of St George to Archbishop Juxon and said ‘Remember!’ at which the axe fell, and Charles was welcomed as one of God’s saints into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Society at large has now become far more accepting of those who hold different views and, Restoration or not, it would be unthinkable today, thank God, that someone in Britain would be tried and executed for holding faith convictions like those King Charles held. But like the example of the other martyrs of the church, Charles’ witness does lead us to ask the question: how important is our faith to us?

My theological college principal was fond of telling us that in the early church there were no canon laws – no rules to follow – because the one canon was that we gave our life to Christ, and if we got that right, then the rest will actually fall in line. This might mean death, or suffering at the hands of others, as it still does for many Christians across the world today, but it might also mean the little sacrifices we make every day, which are just as important, where we choose to put Jesus first.

Let’s be inspired this week, then, as we remember Charles, our very own saint and martyr, to reflect on our own lives and just how important our faith in Jesus is to us. And even if we do not find ourselves having to die for that faith, may we nonetheless share the commitment and zeal we see in Charles and the other martyrs, that we might be true witnesses to Jesus in whatever situations we find ourselves.

Father Christopher

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