When Margaret Thatcher died in April 2013 there were calls for her to be given a state funeral. Although she was undoubtedly one of the key politicians of the 20th century, she was also a divisive figure and it was decided that she should have a ceremonial funeral rather than a full state funeral. For some this was still controversial and in his Guardian newspaper comment on the funeral, Giles Fraser quoted Canon Mark Oakly. Canon Oakley used this example from the royal funerals of the Hapsburgs in his Sunday sermon at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
As the funeral procession approached the closed doors of the Imperial chapel in Vienna, a voice from inside would ask, “who is it?”. The grand chamberlain would read out a long list of grand titles. The voice from the church then replied: “We know him not.” The chamberlain would try again, with a shortened version, and received the same reply. Finally, the chamberlain knocks on the door. Again, comes the question, “who is it?”, and this time, eschewing all pomp and ceremony, he answers: “A sinner in need of God’s mercy.” “Him we know; enter,” comes the reply.
This moving example illustrates the equality in death. It can also be seen in the Commonwealth War Graves. Visiting any of these is a humbling and emotional experience. They are both terrible and beautiful with the serried ranks of identical gravestones in immaculate grounds. The exact wording on each grave varies slightly but they are all identical in size. The grave in Tyne Cot cemetery of the unnamed Chinese laundryman killed when his Royal navy ship was sunk, is identical to that of Captain Noel Chavasse, who is one of only three people ever to have been awarded tthe VC twice, in Brandhoek New Military Cemetery.
BBC Radio 2 has a series of talks on what it is to be human. The first of these was given by Jonathan Sacks, then the Chief Rabbi of the UK. He took as his theme a verse from Genesis.
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27 (NIVUK)
From this he argued that we are all equal as we are all made in the same image. Where has that equality in life gone today? But perhaps more importantly what are we all doing about the appaling level of inequality we see in this modern world?