Held in St Michael’s on Wednesday 14th September 2022
I speak tonight with a heavy heart, and I’m sure all of us are feeling somewhat the same. At times like this the right words are often hard to find. Throughout her long reign, and in all the confusions and challenges of a changing world, Her Majesty has been a constant and faithful presence, a rock.
Although she was 96, the death of our beloved Queen has come as a shock. We knew she would die one day, and yet part of us felt as if she would go on forever. Something in us longs for that constancy and security, for something that doesn’t change. For a rock you can put your foot on and know you can stand firm. The Queen couldn’t be unchanging forever, but her feet were on a different Rock.
Aged 21, in a speech that was broadcast across the Commonwealth and Empire, the then Princess Elizabeth famously made this promise, “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong. (…) God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.”
Her life over the 75 years since is eloquent testimony that she kept that vow and lived up to the simple, noble motto borne by many of her ancestors. “I serve”.
This is not just a moment of history. It’s also a moment of great loss, not least for the Royal family and her friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this time. They have lost not just a Queen but a wonderful Mother, Grandmother and Great-Grandmother too.
There are those of you in our community who were able to meet the Queen. I didn’t have that privilege, and it’s been so good to hear your stories along with all the others in the media in the days since her death. Stories of her warmth and humour, her compassion and kindness, her faithfulness and loyalty, her humility and goodness have abounded, and we give thanks to God for all the lives that she touched so deeply.
As a constitutional monarch, Her Majesty the Queen didn’t reveal what she thought about a whole range of subjects. We don’t know her favourite among the 15 Prime Ministers who held office under her. We don’t know her political preferences or whether she was Brexit or Remain. But we do know about her Christian faith. The only book she wrote a forward to came out in and was called “The Servant Queen and the King She Serves”. In 2002 she said,
“I know just how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad. Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God!” (2002)
Her faith in Christ is where she found the strength and inspiration for such an extraordinary life and long reign. In 2011, she said, “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.” (2011)
To the extent that Elizabeth was kind, servant-hearted, and consistent, she showed us the blessing it is to live under a good ruler. She pointed us to the truth that humanity was created to enjoy life under an all-powerful, all-knowing, always-loving ruler, who (like the Queen) isn’t swayed by opinion polls and never needs to run for election and whose authority isn’t dependent on majority opinion. Humans are happiest under a perfect monarch. The problem, as Queen Elizabeth knew, is that such a leader cannot be found in this world. However, Jesus is that perfect ruler. In 2012 Queen Elizabeth said “This is the time of year when we remember that God sent his only son ‘to serve, not to be served’. He restored love and service to the centre of our lives in the person of Jesus Christ.” (2012)
It’s well known that she had an unlikely friendship with the American evangelist, Billy Graham. When he came to the U.K. for his crusades, the Queen would always invite him to visit her, preach to her, and stay for lunch to discuss the Scripture passage. In his autobiography, Just as I Am, Graham recounted one such lunch, at which he told her he’d not been sure which passage to choose and had almost preached from the healing of the man by the pool at Bethesda in John 5.
“Her eyes,” he wrote, “sparkled and she bubbled over with enthusiasm. . . . ‘I wish you had!’ she exclaimed. ‘That is my favourite story.’” Again, it’s hard to imagine two more different people — a cripple for 38 years with no one to help him and a queen for decades with scores of servants. But he needed to hear Jesus’s words of healing and salvation, and so did she.
In these last months of her earthly life, the Queen suffered with her own “mobility problems.” But no longer, because of the promise of the Christian faith, which the Queen proclaimed throughout her life of faithful service and year after year, in her Christmas broadcasts. That promise is the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life. That our Queen has at last laid down her earthly crown and been greeted by her King with the words, “well done, good and faithful servant!”And one day, we will see her again, standing on steady legs before the throne of the King she loved, and served.
Thank you, Your Majesty, for your years of service. Thank you, Your Majesty, for reminding us that there is a greater monarch even than you. Thank you, Your Majesty, for the ways you showed us Jesus and invited us to join you in following him. May you rest in peace and rise in glory.