Sermon – Num. 6:22-27
The visit of Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II of Denmark
16 June 2019, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Tallinn
According to the liturgical calendar, today is Trinity Sunday, the feast that concludes the first half of the church year when we celebrate the feasts connected to Jesus’ life, and it leads us into the second half of the church year where we have no principal feasts. Both the future and past church feasts bear witness to the lasting nature of the Church and the continuity of God’s blessing.
Highly relevant to this blessing are the words of Aaron’s Blessing, familiar to all Christians, that come from Chapter 6 of the Book of Numbers:“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: You shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his face upon you and give you peace. So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Num. 6:22-27)
There are many ways to bless someone. It is common to wish a ‘blessed Sunday’ to those we encounter on Sundays and on church feasts on the way to worship or at the church door. Christians also wish many blessings from God to their family members and friends when they celebrate their baptism anniversary, birthday or another special day.
When concluding a worship service, the minister raises his hands above the attendees and blesses the congregation in the same manner as did the priests in the days of Aaron the HighPriest, thousands of years ago. Also today, the pastor will use these words to send the congregation home from church, to accompany them as the day of rest turns into ordinary days. When we leave the church after the blessing and the last hymn, it does not mean that God is left waiting in the church to meet us again as we gather for the next worship service. He comes with us wherever life may take us. Where God is, there is also his blessing.
The Lord said: “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”(Num. 6:27). As we bless someone with those words we entrust that person to the care of the Triune God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. According to an early church tradition, the one blessing another in the name of the Triune God should also make the sign of the cross on them. The sign of the cross symbolises God’s boundless and unconditional love and care, which is bestowed on us all through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection. When we make the sign of the cross on ourselves we pray for a blessing on us. As we make the sign of the cross on someone else, we pray for the Lord’s blessing on that person. By placing the symbol of the cross high on the top of a church tower for all to see, we hope for God’s blessing to spread over the land.
Today, the oldest cross flag in the world, the Dannebrog, was placed in this Cathedral. Raised above the battlefield 800 years ago, the flag marked a victory for the invaders – the Danes, and a defeat for the natives – the Estonians. But it is a simplistic image that underpins demarcation lines and the choosing of sides. In the current world that is already polarised enough, we are called to look for different angles. We need to look for things that unite and reconcile us.
I can find many uniting and reconciling aspects in the Dannebrog. Were it the case that we no longer spoke the Estonian language or rejoiced in the centenary of our independent Republic of Estonia or in the 135 years of our beloved blue, black and white tricolour, then we might perhaps still regard the events that happened eight centuries ago as purely divisive – we would have to choose a side. However, as a free nation, we have enough confidence to make an objective and positive assessment of the past.
Today, the centuries of history that Estonia has spent under the authority of different crowns have amounted to multiple layers of culture and heritage that have melted together into a highly diverse, rich and condensed unique Estonian culture. The period of Estonian history that began with King Valdemar II of Denmark marks the origins of the urban culture of Tallinn and enables us now to celebrate the double, or parallel, jubilee of 800 years from the first recorded mention of Tallinn and from the birth of the Danish flag, the Dannebrog. Without the first written record of a school at the Tallinn Cathedral, which was given exclusive schooling rights in 1319 by King Erik VI Menved of Denmark, we could have not celebrated this year as the 700thanniversary of the Tallinn Cathedral School. Many words have been spoken in recent days about the coats of arms of Tallinn and Harju county, which were inspired by the Dannebrog. To this list, we can add the coat of arms of the Knightage of Estonia that became the model for the current coat of arms of the Republic of Estonia. And we should not forget the Danish volunteers who, one hundred years ago, once again raised the Dannebrogover a battlefield in Estonia – this time in support of the Estonians in the War of Independence. The story of the Dannebrogis simultaneously a Danish and an Estonian story. Our histories have intertwined to become a common cultural history – Estonia has become a part of Danish history, as Denmark has become a part of Estonian history.
In fact, we are all a people of the same realm – God’s Kingdom, united as a single Christian family. The symbol of the cross that we can also see on the Dannebrogbrings us together into a unified Christian people. From that moment on 15 June 1219, when the white cross on red background was first raised over this place, the symbol of blessing has never left this land. Yes, in time, the Dannebrog became the national flag of Denmark. But the heavenly message that was received on that day 800 years ago in the Battle of Lindanise did not proclaim a victory of a nation over another, but the blessing power of the cross for the entire world.
800 years ago, the cross symbolised a victory for Valdemar II, but over time it has also transformed into a victory for the Estonian people as they developed the confidence to proclaim their independent statehood a little more than a century ago. Today, independent Estonia stands as an equal alongside other nations, including Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Germany and Russia. This blessing was brought by the sign of the cross that was made over St. Mary’s land eight centuries ago. For me, each cross flag flapping in the wind represents God’s blessing hand over lands and peoples, over the entire humanity.This blessing connects us to God but it also connects us with each other as Christian sisters and brothers.
Blessing, like love, knows no temporal or eternal boundaries. It is only the people that set boundaries. God does not. He does not have a favourite language or a favourite people. God loves us all equally. The faith in God teaches us all to use the language of love when we speak to each other. This love is symbolised by the sign of the cross as an expression of blessing, be it shown by hand, elevated to the top of a church tower, or sewn into a flag. Under this sign, we are all victors!