16/09/22 Sermon from Sunday 11th - Elizabeth II
'In the midst of life we are in death. So says the funeral service in the Book of Common Prayer, a book, every existing copy of which, has just become a relic and can only be used if the priest takes great care to change the words as they speak – she to he, her to him, queen to king, Elizabeth to Charles. This week we have entered into grief. Our Queen has died. It is shocking news. For all that she was 96 years old and visibly frail and had managed these eighteen months or so without the man she once called her strength and stay, she had been there for so long that it seemed as though she always would be. The sheer span of her reign is astonishing. A clear majority of the population have never known a world other than the one in which the Queen is the Queen. Her constancy has been a great support and reassurance to us. We perhaps realise just how much, only now that she has gone. It is desperately, heartbreakingly sad. There is much trouble in our society and across the world. Wars and natural disasters abroad and a painful squeeze in our living standards at home. The one leader in the land who seemed to make things feel better has died. I know I am not the only one of her subjects who has cried in recent days.
Part of this grief is that she and Prince Philip were the last public links to a fabled era of our history and the worlds history, to the era of the war. It has been said that for modern secular Britain, the story of the finest hour, 1940, light versus dark, good versus evil, Churchill versus Hitler, the British Empire and its Commonwealth against the monstrous tyranny of the Nazis has replaced the Christian gospels as the ultimate moral story and symbol on which we hang our identity as a nation. As a priest that makes me rather uncomfortable but I suspect that for many it is true. We do so cherish that greatest generation, what they stood for, what they achieved and the way in which they did it. For us that generation still were present. No American official in Congress or the White House today served in the administrations of Roosevelt, Truman or Eisenhower, no French public servant of today marched to the Elysée palace in 1944 alongside Charles De Gaulle, no Russian statesman today took part in ‘the great patriotic war.’ Yet, until three days ago, the British head of state was someone who had served in uniform during the second world war. It is mind boggling. Someone who had stood on the Buckingham palace balcony on VE day 1945 with Winston Churchill was carrying out public duties in this country as recently as Tuesday. She met, shook hands, exchanged pleasantries and perhaps more substantial ideas with Churchill, Clement Attlee, Anthony Eden, Nye Bevan and Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and JFK. She knew all about the creation of the United Nations and the NHS. She was related to viceroys of India and received a wedding present from Mahatma Gandhi. She was instrumental in the transition from an empire of colonies to a commonwealth of nations and managed, about as well as anyone probably could have done, the difficult and not always happy marriage of tradition to modernity in our culture. When the first James Bond film came out beginning a franchise now sixty years old…. well she had already been on the throne a decade. As for Prince Philip, he had been on the bridge of warships during some of the Royal Navy’s biggest battles of the war. In Cecil Beaton’s astonishingly beautiful coronation photographs which in their vivid colours look to my eye more like paintings than photos, the royal couple seem now like otherworldly figures in their grandeur, visitors from an utterly different time. While they lived they were somehow a portal for us to that world. And now the door is shut. That era really truly is history now. And perhaps that loss explains something of the profound grief which plenty of people, even those who are not staunch royalists like me, are feeling. All the daydreams must go.
And yet, there is another reason we are grieving. Another reason we so loved her and the goodness behind this reason endures and always shall if we grasp it. She was utterly dedicated to the service of others. Grief is, as she herself once said, the price we pay for love. Duty, loyalty, seeking the common good, these are terms about the Queen that we have heard repeatedly – because of course they are true. She dedicated, consecrated, her life to being a force for the good of others. She was in her own person, a sort of walking sacrament, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. While she embodied the best of Britain and the commonwealth and God bless her for it, she also personified Christian ideals of love, joy, peace, generosity, patience and creative service to others. It has been said that we shall not see her like again. Well actually, yes we will if we resolve to live by her example. We are all now familiar with the recording of her speech where she declared 75 years ago that her whole life, whether long or short would be devoted to our service. In rejoicing at a promise most wonderfully kept, it is easy to forget that her pledge ends with a brief prayer for God’s blessing on all who will share in her vow. She was not just a Queen. She was a Christian Queen with a capital C. Hers was a religious vocation a ministry gladly accepted by a woman of profound faith in the Lord. She was crowned, as her son will be, in a church service and by an Archbishop. She was anointed with holy oils because Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet thus anointed Solomon King. The three brightest jewels given to her, an orb, a sceptre and the crown itself have at their heads the symbol of the cross of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings who, because he died once and now lives once and for all, brings us to a Kingdom which shall never end.
Each and every single one of us; male and female, young and old, rich and poor, black and white or Asian or gay or straight, whatever, in King Charles’ words, our background or belief, we are the creations of a good God who has a purpose for us. God did not make any of us for the sheer hell of it. He has a creation which he loves and he means for us to find fruitful ways of being stewards of that creation. St Catherine of Siena once said, ‘Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.’ Well we can see that lived out in the Queen’s life but it can be found elsewhere too. Take our new King for example. In a world cursed with some truly awful politicians we have been given a head of state who two nights ago, in the depth of his grief at the loss of his mother gave one of the most eloquent speeches I have ever heard. He is cultured and thoughtful. He championed the cause of the environment long before politicians found it expedient and a vote winner to campaign for the conservation of the natural world. If, by their belated actions, our policy makers do indeed manage to stave off an ecological disaster, which God willing they will, it will be in part because God inspired some brave voices like our King and his excellent father to speak and act whether they were thanked for it or not. He has championed the cause of young people through the prince’s trust. He wore his country’s uniform as a naval officer. And crucially, like his mother, he placed his faith in God at the centre of his message to the world. Do you know? I really do believe that we might just do very well indeed in this reign.
Now, why not live out that ideal, being whom God means us to be ourselves. How about if each of us dedicates or rededicates ourselves this day to living out our vocation as Christians to duty, charity and loving service to others. It is that which made the Queen so special – and there is not the smallest reason why each of us cannot live by that example and make a rich and fruitful legacy of the second Elizabethan age which we have known. Jesus Christ gives us in today’s gospel reading a wonderfully straightforward moral vision by which to govern our lives. Unlike some esoteric philosophies out there, there is a refreshing lack of mumbo-jumbo and gobbledegook in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our Lord gives us sound advice about how, in great deeds and small ones we can help build up the Kingdom of God. All the glories of our earthly kingdoms are but a glimpse of the Kingdom of God and if justice, truth, peace, love, compassion, forgiveness, charity or simply making more of an effort to make a small difference around us become the hall marks of our lives then the Kingdom comes and God’s will is done. And at the last we shall come, along with our most gracious sovereign lady Queen Elizabeth and all those whom we love but see no longer into the everlasting joy of the presence of the King of Kings.
God grant to us the courage, the wisdom and the grace to follow our Queen’s example, to run the race that is set before us, to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God and King! Amen.'