Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Service
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
We will all remember where we were when we heard the news of the death of Princess Diana. Even children will remember that brief moment. And we may recall images of a crashed car, a coffin draped with the Royal Standard, carried in silence and with great dignity by men of the Royal Air Force. And then we will recall pictures of the Princess of Wales—a devoted mother herself, hugging children, holding the hands of an AIDS victim or a person suffering from leprosy. We will perhaps be able to call to mind her wearing of a flak jacket in a minefield. We will have a picture of her elegance, her shy, beguiling smile, her energy and enthusiasm and sense of humour.
However when a nation spontaneously pours out its emotion and is in united grief and respect when individuals come in their thousands simply to be there and to offer flowers, then we need to stop and think and take time to ask ourselves what is going on. That is what we do tonight. We all feel a sense of deep sadness at the death of a young mother, here with Diana Princess of Wales that sadness is made more intense. We tend to think more of beautiful people than ugly ones and hers was a legendary beauty, combined with royalty and glamour. And yet in spite of all this she was accessible to millions. She had an ability to give of herself especially to those who were suffering or shunned, or who had become forgotten victims, for she too was in many ways a victim, treated badly and she learned not to be afraid to expose her own pain and vulnerability to the world. In her death something precious has been lost, something of beauty which we perhaps took for granted and did not treasure so deeply until it was taken from us.
Some people have said they had mixed emotions about Diana in life and yet have said that they didn't know until now how deeply they really cared. Those who have attributed the national grief to media hype have missed the point, that even the media failed to realise the weight of public support, the love and affection for her. We have witnessed the death of a person who crossed the divides between rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless. This was a woman of passion for people who through her caring won public support, she is mourned not just for who she was but for what she stood for. She was symbol of something which we believed in, not a plaster Saint, but somebody human like us—a People's Princess.
Public tributes began almost immediately from such internationally respected figures as Mother Theresa who said that Diana was 'like a daughter to her', Bill Clinton the President of the United States and Nelson Mandela The President of South Africa. Yet ordinary folk too were prepared to wait for hours to sign books of condolence, placing millions of floral tributes to a woman who sadly never knew how much she had achieved her ambition to become a Queen of People's Hearts.
You may recall the words of the Royal Wedding. 'This is the stuff of which fairy tales are made.' But for Princess Diana and indeed all of the Royal Family, reality kept breaking into the golden light that surrounds fairy stories. The reality of relentless photographs, the reality of a marriage breakdown and divorce, and now the final reality of all, death.
It has been the particular revelation and insight of Christianity that God has never been far away from us in our suffering. He does not desire the death of any one of his children, but only that we should know the strength of his love for us for ever. Jesus Christ too lived a life of suffering even to death on a cross. God contains himself in the wounds of all humanity, the aching loss of bereavement, the grief of individuals and the sorrow of nations. He holds all of that in love so that suffering is eased, tears are wiped away, and death is defeated. A God who suffers with us and for us, and then brings healing and new life, this is the God in whom Christians believe.
What we are called on as a nation to do now is to pray with all our hearts for the young Princes, William and Harry, for Her Majesty the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, the Queen Mother and all the Royal Family and for the Princess of Wales' family, that they may know not only our sorrow and compassion, but the sorrow and compassion of God himself. We must pray also for Mr Al Fayed and his family, for the chauffeur's family and for all involved in grief that they too may know that divine strength and comfort are with them. Our tribute, as a nation should be not only to acknowledge our sense of loss but to strive to increase our compassion—both for charitable causes for which the Princess worked, and for others which equally deserve our care, so that as a nation we can become, even in our sorrow, a deeply compassionate society. We too must be willing to show her bravery her willingness to tackle governments and challenge prejudices, knowing that to do nothing in the face of human suffering is to enable that suffering to continue. And tonight through prayer and through offering our sorrow to God privately and in our communal worship we will discover that strength and peace and new life promised by God who always and without fail brings light even out of the most appalling darkness.