As preached at a Service of Thanksgiving for the Life of Her Majesty The Queen, St Anne's, Kew, Sunday 11th September
There have been so many words spoken and written about her late majesty Queen Elizabeth since her death on Thursday. As I came to write this sermon yesterday, I wondered how I could possibly add anything to what has already been said. The outpouring of obituaries and remembrances which have filled our newspapers, screens and radios, have spoken eloquently of a life of duty and service, a devoted and inspirational leader, a faithful Governor of the Church of England and someone who followed Christ and gave an outstanding example of Christian service and witness, of a long reign for which humility, wisdom, loyalty and service will forever be its hallmark. As our new King put it in his speech on Friday, When the Queen promised, at 21, to devote her life to the service of her peoples, “That was more than a promise: it was a profound personal commitment which defined her whole life.”
Perhaps one way to gage her meaning to us all, is to take a measure of this moment, rather than reliving her life in the past. To ask how we are feeling about her now as we give thanks and celebrate our late Queen.
I’ve talked to lots of people since the Queen passed away, and one dominant response I’ve heard is that people are taken aback by their sadness, and their sense of shock. Yet, this was a woman who had reached 96 years of age, we knew the sad day would come inevitably when she would die, she had a long, good life and had given so much, yet still this shock and this great sadness.
A Mum whose baby I baptised earlier today said, ‘I’m so shocked at how sad I feel about the Queen’s death.’ It’s as if a member of my family has died.’
Most of us have known her gentle face all of our lives. On Every postage stamp, every coin, every passport, every Christmas. A constant presence, which perhaps was so familiar we took it for granted. The Queen’s image is printed, stamped and struck deep into our psyche. No wonder this moment of history has moved us profoundly, no wonder we feel we’ve lost one of our own.
There are other reasons too. When someone so familiar, so present, dies, it can bring back powerful feelings of grief for those we love who are no longer with us. The death of a loved monarch jars past grief sharply into present focus. Perhaps it’s also a safe place for emotion we have kept inside – everyone else is feeling this so I can too. We’re all allowed to cry.
Secondly, we are all fatigued by change. Wearied and storm-tossed by recent times of unprecedented change and dislocation in the form of Covid 19, but there have also been other major changes – Brexit, 4 changes of Prime Minister in 6 years, the war in the Ukraine, and a looming energy crisis. And now we mourn for our late Queen, someone who offered stability and strength through all those changes, and it is no surprise that we are shaken by it.
Thirdly, many of us loved her. Our new Prince of Wales wrote yesterday: “My grandmother famously said that grief was the price we pay for love. All of the sadness we will feel in the coming weeks will be a testament to the love we felt for our extraordinary Queen.”
The last few years have been a traumatic time, and as Christians we are called to respond to trauma with healing and reconciliation. As St Paul said in his letter to the Romans, 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.”
Reconciliation was for our late Queen a fundamental calling in her life of faith and one she put into action. In her Christmas message in 2014 she said - “For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing.” An example of her work in reconciliation was her trip to Northern Ireland in 2011. This was the first time a British monarch had visited Dublin and the south of Ireland since King George V in 1911, a hundred years earlier. It was a pivotal moment – David Cameron called it a game changer in the relationship between Britain and Ireland – it was a moment when the late queen truly did stretch out a hand in love, acceptance and healing and helped bring about reconciliation.
She continues to provide a witness and example for our present moment, in world greatly in need of reconciliation and healing. Times of great change like our present moment are also times of great opportunity. In his statement on the death of her late Majesty, Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury wrote that ‘our shared grieving will also be a work of shared reimagining’. That reimagining can become a place of hope, of healing and of reconciliation under our new monarch.
The BBC wrote about the Queen’s death on their website yesterday that This is the moment history stops; for a minute, an hour, for a day or a week; this is the moment history stops.
But as a historian, I have to disagree. The death of her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is a moment when history takes a seismic shift forward. The cogs of History jolt as we leap from an Elizabethan to a Carolean age. We are not stopping, we are starting. This is a time of reimagining and of hope. We feel the sting of grief at her loss in our change-weary world, but stir ourselves to embrace this moment. We celebrate and give thanks for all that our late Queen has given us in a life of devoted service and commitment whilst stepping forward to bless his Majesty, King Charles with long and happy years to reign over us.
God save the King.
Rev Melanie Harrington