WISDOM sung by African-American slaves was administered to the heart of the British Establishment on Saturday, in a thundering sermon delivered at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Surrounded by Tudor treasures in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, completed decades before the first English colony was established in America, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, drew on the words of Dr Martin Luther King to urge the congregation to consider a world redeemed by the power of love.
“No child would go to bed hungry in such a world as that,” he cried. “Poverty would become history in such a world as that.”
Several members of the congregation, which brought together British and Hollywood royalty, looked stunned.
PAThe Archbishop of Canterbury officiates as Prince Harry Meghan Markle make their vows at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, on Saturday
An estimated 1.9 billion people tuned in to watch Ms Markle walk the length of the nave to Handel’s Eternal source of light divine, her 16-foot train — decorated with flowers representing all 53 countries of the Commonwealth — carefully carried aloft by two tiny pageboys, Brian and John Mulroney. She was met by the Prince of Wales at the entrance to the quire. He had agreed to accompany her to the altar rail after her father’s ill-health prevented his attendance.
The service, taken from Common Worship, was introduced by the Dean of Windsor, the Rt Revd David Conner, with music chosen on Prince Charles’s advice from an English repertoire, including Thomas Tallis (“If ye love me”) and John Rutter (“The Lord bless you and keep you”).
Lady Jane Fellowes, an older sister of the Prince’s mother, the late Princess of Wales, read from the Song of Solomon (“My beloved speaks and says to me: ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away...”). “Love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave,” she read. In an interview marking his engagement, Prince Harry suggested that his wife and mother would have been “thick as thieves”, and that Diana would be “jumping up and down somewhere else” on the wedding day.
The Archbishop of Canterbury officiated as the couple made their vows. In March, he had baptised and confirmed Ms Markle at the chapel of St James’s Palace (News, 18 March).
Bishop Curry, invited to preach at the suggestion of Archbishop Welby, looked beyond the young couple seated before him to a packed chapel, and, through the television cameras, to the world beyond. He reminded his congregation of the two greatest commandments: to love God, and to love your neighbour.
Quoting the American theologian Charles Marsh, a biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he described how Jesus “founded the most revolutionary movement in human history: a movement built on the unconditional love of God for the world and the mandate to live that love.”
Those who didn’t believe him, should look to the spiritual sung by slaves in the Antebellum South, he suggested:
If you cannot preach like Peter,
And you cannot pray like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
How he died to save us all.
There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.
“Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying,” he reminded the congregation, arms outstretched. “He sacrificed his life for the good of others.”
In a world where “love is the way”, he ventured, surrounded by tributes to the country’s military record, “we would learn how to lay our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more.”
Ms Markle smiled throughout; her mother, Doria Ragland nodded; while television cameras zoomed in on congregation members, many of whose faces betrayed surprise or bemusement at Bishop Curry’s impassioned delivery.
paThe Most Revd Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, preaches at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex
“I really need some black folks in the church to shout out an amen,” noted Dr Chad Williams, Professor of African & Afro-American Studies at Brandeis University, Boston, on Twitter.
Undeterred, Bishop Curry was looking forward to “a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family”. Quoting the French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, he observed that, “if human beings ever harness the energies of love, then for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.”
The descendant of slaves and sharecroppers in North Carolina and Alabama, Bishop Curry has sought wisdom in the spirituals of the South on previous occasions, notably in the wake of Neo-Nazi marches in Charlottesville, last year, when he quoted “Walk together children, and don’t you get weary” (News, 18 August 2017).
His address — anticipated with precision by the diocese of Fort Worth (those using its bingo card of his favourite phrases had an immediate hit with his greeting in the name of a “loving, liberating, and life-giving God”) — was followed by a performance of “Stand by Me” by the British gospel choir Kingdom Choir, led by Karen Gibson — a song inspired by an old spiritual, “Lord Stand by Me”.
Prayers were led by the Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin, a Chaplain to the Queen, and the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, HE Archbishop Angaelos. Music during the signing of the register was provided by the cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2016, including Fauré’s Après un rêve.
The Queen, married 70 years ago in Westminster Abbey, stood while the congregation sang the National Anthem, before the bride and groom processed out through the great west door, thickly hedged with white roses, into bright spring sunshine. Greeted by 200 representatives of the Prince’s charities, they shared their first kiss as a married couple on the steps.
The newly married couple, to be known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, departed in an Ascot Landau carriage for their procession through Windsor Town, giving the 100,000 people who had lined the Long Walk since early in the morning opportunity for another glimpse.
In one sense, different worlds were being brought together, Bishop Curry acknowledged, on the eve of the wedding. “In another sense . . . if we are created from God, we are already related. We are part of God’s family.”
Read the full text of Bishop Curry’s sermon here.
Watch it on the Episcopal News Service website here.
Click here to see how churchgoers celebrated the Royal wedding.