Delivered at the Kirkin o’ the Tartans, at St. James’s Episcopal Church, Springfield, MO, November 12, 2022
Propers for the Feast of St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland: Proverbs 31:10-20; Psalm 146:4-9; Matthew 13:44-46
It is good to be at St. James’ again, although I find myself missing Fr. Jos, as I am sure everyone does. Our Dominican chapter next year is in the Seattle area and I am hoping that I might be able to make a side trip to Idaho for a visit. I hear that the new bishop there likes Dominicans.
But for now, we shall soldier on.
I was asked by Deacon Suzy to choose the “propers” — the scriptures we are using this evening. Of course I preferred a Scottish theme — duh. I had a couple of choices, based on the time of year. We have used both before, but it doesn’t hurt to revisit them. One option that we have used before is the celebration of the Consecration of Bishop Samuel Seabury. I believe we used this one at the last Kirkin’. But I ended up choosing the celebration of the feast of St. Margaretm, Queen of Scotland, since that feast fits so well into the real reason we are here tonight. Tradition.
Now, hold onto your seats. I often tell people that if you ask a Dominican to preach for you, you’re going to get some book-learnin’ thrown in.
So, who is this Margaret?
Well, first, to be honest, she wasn’t Scottish at all. Not Celtish in any way. She was Anglo-Saxon. She was the daughter of Edward the Exile, a descendant of Alfred the Great. Edward had lived in exile in Hungary, where Margaret was likely born in 1045. Edward preferred to stay in Hungary, but was convinced to come back to England to settle a succession crisis in the 1050s. That’s right, not very long before the Norman invasion. Unfortunately, a few months after reaching England, he died. Mysteriously. That seemed to happen a lot back then.
But Margaret soon found herself betrothed to Malcom Canmor, the king of Scotland. Remember in Shakespeare’s “MacBeth”, the two princes who were the sons of the murdered King Duncan — Malcom and Donalbain? This is that Malcom. “Canmor,” by the way, literally means “big head.” Scholars are split on whether that means he was smart, or wise, or a canny tactician, or if he just had a really big head.
There was a lot of…well, stuff…before Margaret and Malcolm were eventually married. The English called off the betrothal, Malcolm invaded Northumbria in protest, etc., etc., but eventually, in 1070, the betrothal was back on and they were married. Yes, that’s after the Normans took over the rule of England. I wonder if this was a tactic by the Normans to get Margaret out of the way. She did, after all, have a claim on the throne that might have been at least an irritant to the Norman King William whose claim was pretty sketchy.
I’ve been listening to British history podcasts a lot lately. Can you tell?
Now, for many rulers, the ancient sources disagree on whether they were good or bad, but there doesn’t seem to be any disagreement about Margaret. She is consistently referred to as “strong, pure, and noble.”
Among other things, Margaret used her influence with her husband and his heir, her youngest son David, to work toward just rule. Every day, according to the chronicles, she served orphans and washed the feet of the poor before she ate anything. She established monasteries, assisted pilgrims, and interceded for the release of Englishmen who had been put into serfdom by the Normans. In private, she spent much of her time in prayer and reading.
This past Sunday, at my home parish in Poplar Bluff, we celebrated the Feast of All Saints, which is all about tradition. Remembering and honoring tradition, especially as exemplified by the Saints, is important. And if you think that was a student jump from St. Margaret to tradition, bear with me for a minute. I promise to bring these two threads together.
We Episcopalians consider tradition to be very important. Tradition is why we get up here in church wearing medieval outfits. It’s why I am here in a getup that is not that different from the habit worn by St. Dominic de Guzman in the 12th century. It’s not because we’re heading to the Renaissance Fair after church. It’s because we think it’s important to maintain a connection to those who have gone on before us
In fact, we Anglicans consider tradition so important that we have it as one of the three “legs” that we use when considering doctrine: we use scripture, interpreted using reason, in the light of tradition.
But it is just as important to understand how that tradition applies to our personal lives. Because if it doesn’t, if we don’t give that tradition meaning, we’re just playing. Putting on costumes, going through the motions, having a good time, but not much else.
Now, the Gospel reading for our celebration of All Saints last week was the Beatitudes as found in Luke. There are things that are different about this passage in Luke that are different than the similar passage found in Matthew. Where Matthew’s Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Luke’s Jesus says simply, “Blessed are the poor.” Where Matthew’s Jesus says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,” Luke’s Jesus says “Blessed are you who hunger.”
Where Matthew’s Jesus speaks of spiritual well-being, Luke’s Jesus is much more concerned with immediate physical needs. Like Margaret.
St. Margaret gave us a tradition of bringing the Beatitudes into reality. She showed us how. And she isn’t alone. St. Damien the Leper, St. Martin des Porres, St. Teresa of Kolkata – none of them Scots, unfortunately — also showed us the way.
Since we have been coming to the Kirkin’, my wife has been researching our respective family trees. I had always thought my heritage was almost all Irish and Welsh, but a MyHeritage DNA test says I am of mostly Scottish descent, and my wife has discovered that I have roots in Clan McLeod, Clan Buchanan, Clan Stewart, and others. I could wear a lot of different tartans, but I have settled on just one: McLeod of Lewis, because of their connection to Iona, the Holy Isle. By choosing one clan, I am intentionally connecting with those ancestors, honoring them, as flawed and imperfect as many – if not all – of them were. Because…well…tradition
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Maybe St. Margaret did not die for others, but she most certainly did dedicate her life to them. Can we not do the same? Can we not honor her tradition? Can we, like Margaret, care for the poor and needy, and work to see that those who rule do so justly?
In the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Jesus says “Every Scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.
What is old is…our traditions. What is new is what we do with them. And both are a treasure.
So, by all means let us uphold our traditions. They are important, and we need to remember. We need to connect with what has gone before. But rather than blindly following and going through the motions, let us work to be what many of our forebears, like Margaret, like Damien, like Martin de Porres, like Teresa of Kolkata also worked to be.
What Jesus told us we were, or at least, could be.
The light of the world. The salt of the earth. Saints.
In our case, Scottish saints.