The 15th February 1952 is a date that probably holds no significance for most. It was however, the last time the funeral service of the reigning monarch of Great Britain and the Commonwealth took place. Just over sixty years ago, King George VI passed away peacefully in his sleep. His body was dressed in full military uniform, and placed in a great coffin. His coffin lay in-state in Westminster Hall for five days to allow the nation and Commonwealth to pay respects. As the coffin was taken from Westminster Hall, it was draped with the Royal Standard, and the Sceptre and Orb, symbols of his Kingship, were laid on top. Around two million mourners lined the streets of London, heads quietly bowed in the chill winter air, as the funeral procession slowly made its way through familiar landmarks such as Whitehall and Horseguards Parade en route to Paddington Station. No voices were heard, nor words spoken. Big Ben tolled for fifty six minutes, one for each year of the King’s life. Ten thousand troops of the armed forces, mainly on foot, but some on horseback, in a parade three and a half miles long followed in a slow march. Military bands played familiar tunes as the procession moved, with the Pipes and Drums of Scottish and Irish Guards haunted the stillness with tunes of lament. Sporadically, the thud of artillery saluted the passing coffin. The family followed, with the Queen Mother and the New Queen, a young twenty five year old woman, mourning her father, with the weight of the Commonwealth now on her shoulders, to name but two. Then there were the dignitaries, hundreds had come, Dukes, Kings and Queens from far and near, Presidents from the Western civilisation and Eastern communist states, Prime ministers, all contributing to the grand funeral procession. Highland pipers played “The Flowers O’ the Forest” as the coffin was gently place into the carriage of the steam train “King George VI”. The coarse whistle from the guard gave the signal. The massed bands gently began to play Chopin’s Funeral March as the train pulled out of Paddington Station, taking the King on his final journey to Windsor Castle, where he would be laid to rest in a tomb, where people can still today, pay their respects.
Similar stories could be told from around the world, of funerals of great men and women, kings and queens, presidents and politicians, whose funerals have been occasions of great pomp and ceremony.
But what about the funeral of the greatest man who has ever lived? The man whose name people use and abuse by the minute even though he lived and died over two millennia ago, the man whose life story has sold more books than any other, the man who changed the worldwide dating system, the man who is described as “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords”. It may surprise you to know that his funeral was something of a non event. Two fairly anonymous men took his body down from a cross, dressed it in the burial attire of a poor man, and laid it to rest in a small unidentified cave near Jerusalem. Only a handful of people watched this humble burial. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Saviour of the World, who had died so publicly and brutally, was buried, and hardly anyone noticed or cared.
When Jesus was buried there was no kingly attire or lying-in-state, no ceremonial procession or mourning crowds, no bands or salute of guns, no world leaders, kings or queens. There was no grave that would become a place of homage or pilgrimage.
Because there was no need! The grave was not the permanent abode of the body of Jesus. Read these words from the Bible, Matthew Chapter 28,
1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
This is the Good News of Easter, this is the message of Christianity, summed up by the Apostle Paul as he wrote to the Christians in Corinth (1st Corinthians Chapter 15, the Bible),
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.