What words will be sufficient for this Sunday? I doubt that I will write a sermon with the weight of that question again in my lifetime. A Sunday where we gather to mark and mourn the passing of a much respected and beloved sovereign but also human, woman, friend, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. A woman who has been part of our lives for 96 years, our Queen for 70 years, there are few here who will remember life before Queen Elizabeth’s reign and none who will have known life before this hugely significant woman was born.
I wonder what it was that she meant to you? What would be the word you would use to define Her Majesty. For many the first words are faithfulness, service, humility perhaps yours are different. We have seen over the last few days many memories favourite memories of the Queen and the impact that she had on so many. I suspect if we had time to go around the room to capture everyone’s favourite memories of the Queen there would be as many as the people here. I wonder how many of us are shaped in our memories of the Queen by our age: some will remember the princess at war, some the young Queen coronated 70 years ago, some will remember ‘anis horibilis’, and some will remember the later years and that great humour which came out as the Queen took part in a sketch with Daniel Craig’s James Bond in 2012 and earlier this year with Paddington bear – perhaps unimaginable in earlier generations, that picture which encapsulates the Queen for me of doing that which so many others did on the death of Prince Philip that picture of her masked and socially distanced at his funeral. Always ensuring that she was one of the people, leading with faithful integrity.
I have spoken to many people of their thoughts and feelings as we lost the Queen this week. One feeling stood out to me and I think perhaps expresses something which has been felt afresh this week. I spoke to someone who said “…but who will I call now.” I asked what they meant. “She was always there wasn’t she? Who will there be now?” I did wonder how often that person had actually called the Queen but I know what it was that they meant. It is conveyed in both of our readings today too. There is something in the long lived reign of our Queen that means she has been the constant. Whatever else has happened… Prime ministers come and go, wars happen, pandemics turn into endemics, cost of living crisis but the Queen is the constant through all of that. Our Queen, our inspiration, our sovereign
Paul’s words urging us not to lose heart feel very pertinent words in this context. The whole reading which speaks of a shift from a temporary human state to being in the eternal care of our loving God would have been confidently known by the Queen as she moved from her earthly life to death and security in resurrection glory.
It is perhaps easier to write a sermon about someone whose faith was so lived and known and for our church is as woven into our faith narrative as that of many of those who inspire us from scripture. The Queen led the nation but was also committed to being the defender of faith performing this role as a true disciple and faithful servant of Christ. Many who attain great status and power cannot help but be corrupted by it there is a sense that in Queen Elizabeth she knew who she was in the kingdom and hence the commitment to service something many in church leadership could learn much from.
If we lose heart because we have lost our constant, if we fear for the future without that constant we take heart from that which the Queen convicted in her faith knew. This inspiring monarch was temporal and lived her life in the service of the true constant – God. As we mourn the passing of constancy we remember that all humans are for a time and a season, in response to the person who wondered who they would call now – we know as the Queen knows that the answer is God.
There is something else that we remember today about those who have been in our life and how they shape and influence us. I wonder how many of us will have been changed forever in our understanding as a result of living through these times. As I prepared this I wonder how it was felt that they would go on after the loss of Abraham, Moses, David, Paul. We know that however their loss impacted their communities go on they did but their legacy lived on in those they prepared. As we face the death of Queen Elizabeth we give thanks that she will live on in our memories in the way she has influenced, inspired and shaped us and in the way that she has prepared King Charles as he begins his reign over the nation and becomes supreme governor of the church. In his very first speech as King the shaping and preparation of the woman we all mourn was evident. As we mourn the loss of Queen Elizabeth we pray for and give thanks for those she shaped and influenced the most as she lives on in them.
In her last Christmas message the Queen herself said: “It is this simplicity of the Christmas story that makes it so universally appealing: simple happenings that formed the starting point of the life of Jesus – a man whose teachings have been handed down from generation to generation, and have been the bedrock of my faith.” We see now the handing on from generation to generation that is so familiar to those of faith.
As we receive Eucharist today as the Queen did week by week we are fed in our loss and fear by the true constant that fed her through hers, the bread of life. We hold fast to the comfort the Queen will have had in her last hours in her knowledge of the Gospel reading which assures us that those of faith can hold to the promise of resurrection glory. And as the Queen ended her 2021 Christmas message in what feels like a great loss and mourning in the midst of fearful and difficult times we pray to the true constant that “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” As King Charles is proclaimed across our nation and as Queen Elizabeth is prepared to be committed to God’s eternal rest and care. We gather around God’s table to sustain ourselves as the Queen did in her difficult times with the bread of life. May our Queen rest in peace and rise in glory and may we as commended by Paul take hope that God is our bedrock generation to generation. Amen.