Mourning for HM The Queen
Jonathan Rowe, 11 September 2022
Lamentations 3: 22–26, 31–33; 2 Corinthians 4: 16–5: 4; John 6: 35–40
‘I lift up my eyes to the hills.’ Pilgrims ascending the road to Jerusalem sang about Mount Zion, their destination, the point of reference on the winding road.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister described Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth as ‘the rock upon which modern Britain was built’. Through the vicissitudes of our lives, she has been a constant, someone to whom we have been able to look, an example of service and commitment. And now she is gone.
I suspect that the effect of Queen Elizabeth’s death will be profound, more deeply felt than we expect. Those who experience earthquakes report that it’s seeing the ground writhe that unnerves and discombobulates: the one thing that should remain firm moves. The only sovereign of our nation that many of us have known, and who has outlived all but a handful of us, is gone. Life seems less stable, more uncertain; we grieve.
‘Grief’, the Queen said, ‘is the price you pay for love’. The book of Lamentations speaks of the ‘steadfast love’ of the Lord, an unwavering commitment to seeking the good of his people. Queen Elizabeth was inspired by this love, expressed most clearly in the self-giving love of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. She fulfilled her duties diligently and graciously, seeking to imitate Christ. Recognising this, we reciprocated with love and affection for her. And so, we grieve.
Yet we do not lose heart, because, in words from the second letter to the Corinthians, ‘We look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be see; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal’. We do not lose heart. But our hope is not that circumstances will improve, nor that we will improve ourselves, nor that suddenly things will return to normal. None of these, nor any permutation of them, is the reason for Christian hope.
Our hope is not that circumstances will improve, nor that we will improve ourselves, nor that suddenly things will return to normal … God promises that the frail, the transient and the mortal will be ‘swallowed up in life’.
Christian hope is founded upon God. All life – even long life – comes to an end. But God’s mercies ‘never come to an end’. ‘The Lord shall keep watch over your going out and your coming in … for evermore’. Queen Elizabeth, a temporal point of reference, has gone. But Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever. He promises that the frail, the transient and the mortal will be ‘swallowed up in life’.
In our gospel reading Jesus describes himself as ‘the bread of life’. He sustains and nourishes us all our days.
Queen Elizabeth’s faith was her inspiration. She was the perfect evangelist: her faith underpinned her being and her vocation, shining through everything she did – not in a hectoring, judgemental or exclusive way, but in the quiet, gentle example of a life inspired and sustained by Jesus Christ.
He promises to raise those who trust in him. That’s why, in the words of the Nicene Creed, Christians ‘look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come’.
Are we really inspired by the life given to us by God? Does it guide all that we are and seek to be?
The German martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, spoke of the ‘idolisation’ of death. He meant that death has the last word, expressed either by the embrace of death or a ‘frivolous playing with life’, losing ourselves in the mundane (Ethics, p. 80). Both are evident in our society.
The resurrection gives us a new perspective. Bonhoeffer said this: ‘Whenever it is recognised that the power of death has been broken … by the miracle of the resurrection and of the new life … one takes of life what it offers … good and evil, the important and the unimportant, joy and sorrow; one neither clings convulsively to life nor casts it frivolously away’ (ibid.).
Faithfully living the life that is given us is made possible through resurrection hope. This is not some vague notion of a disembodied soul floating somewhere in the ether. That is emphatically not our Christian hope. We hope for the resurrection of the dead, a hope founded upon and guaranteed by Jesus’ resurrection. It’s a hope represented this morning by the Paschal candle, lit for the first time each year on Easter Day.
So, what happens when we die? The Bible indicates that we sleep or rest, waiting for the resurrection life to be wrought by Jesus.
During a funeral service, the finality of death is recognised with the words ‘earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust’. But the priest continues immediately with ‘in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life’ – an affirmation that death is not the end. This may seem perplexing, since we decay. But while we do not know how this can be, we do know that ‘God can do new things with dust’ (Wright, Surprised by Hope, p. 170).
As we mourn our Queen, let us pray for ourselves, for the royal family, the nation and our world; let us pray for King Charles and the leaders of this nation amid economic turmoil and political transition; let us pray for justice and compassion and love; and let us pray that our hope will be God’s promise: that we, like Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and all the saints, will rest in peace – and rise with Christ in glory. Amen.