I, like many others, never met the Queen, but I, also like many others, feel that I knew her not least because whenever I took up a clergy post in England, I had to swear an oath of allegiance to her who was, after all,Supreme Governor of the CofE and Defender of the Faith. There have been many wonderful tributes to her since her death: what I want to do this morning is to reflect briefly on what we learn about life and flourshing from the life and commitment of this remarkable lady. I will focus on three areas.
First, she kept us in touch with our better nature. In times when our national life is consumed and even out of control with strife and vicious disagreement, when we don’t know where to turn because it all seems insane, when we feel let down and abandoned by the very people we elect to lead us, when there is confusion between truth and lies, when there is an increased polarisation within society itself, when we were being worn down by not being able to see our families and friends because of the pandemic, we could be reassured and comforted when we looked to her majesty and saw that at the very heart of our national life was a stillness, reliability and moral presence who had our interests at heart. She did, indeed, remind us of our better nature as a nation and as individuals. But it went further than this.
That second reading from the Book of Revelation was written for a group of people who were being oppressed and overwhelmed by life and the writer offers them fresh hope, a new vision for life. ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away’ we heard. A new vision and fresh hope. I believe that the Queen, by her words and her life, offered us hope and vision thereby preventing the country from being swallowed up by negativity and dispute. This vision was all about the importance of relationships. Yes, economics are important and politics have their place, but they are all trumped by relationships – good, healthy relationships and she was frequently, through her messages, encouraging us to look especially towards the forgotten and vulnerable. ‘We’ll meet again,’ she promised in the middle of lockdown. Close relationships will be possible again. And they were. It is when we value relationships above all else, especially relationships with the forgotten and vulnerable within our families and within society, that we are in touch with our better nature.
Secondly, she reminded us that we should not be self-obsessed, that, while we need to take our responsibilities seriously, we should not take ourselves too seriously. For this, we need help from the younger members of our families and society. Let’s think further about this. It has been well-known for a long time that the Queen had a sense of humour and a healthy sense of the ridiculous. She herself tells the story of preparing for her coronation, seventy years ago. One of the problems she encountered was the weight of the crown that she would be wearing at her coronation. She had to get used to it and strengthen her neck muscles. She decided to do this by wearing it around the house and she speaks of bathing her young children wearing her crown. But, maybe for the first time in public, we all saw the Queen’s sense of fun, her willingness not to take herself too seriously when, encouraged by James Bond she jumped out of a helicopter at the 2012 Olympics. Apparently, she was encouraged to do this by the youngest generation of royals. And we saw this a few months ago at the Platinum Jubilee Celebrations when she invited Paddington Bear for tea.
Yes, of course we need to take our responsibilities seriously, but if we are always taking ourselves too seriously, if we become self-obsessed then when things go wrong, as indeed they will at times, then we, or other people, can be damaged as a consequence. It is often the young in our lives and in our society that challenge our self-obsession and keep us healthy. It is important to listen to their voices and not simply dismiss them as foolish and inexperienced. It is, for instance, the actions and voices of the young that are ensuring that we take the environment and health of the planet seriously. That first reading from the prophet Isaiah speaks about the building up of his people in a spirit of joy, gladness and praise. Taking our duties and responsibilities seriously but not taking ourselves too seriously and listening to the voices of the young is one way of building up her people, bringing joy and gladness that was discovered and practised by our late Queen.
Finally, the Queen was a person who was fed and motivated by her deep faith. She often spoke about it, particularly in her Christmas messages and clearly it irrigated her whole life. Just as she demonstrated the importance of relationships to other people, so she showed that it was her relationship with Jesus Christ that sustained her. For her, faith was not putting on a straight-jacket of beliefs, but it was about a living relationship which spilled over and fed her whole life. It was a relationship that deepened her love, deepened her humanity and deepened her commitment to others,. Her faith didn’t mean she didn’t make mistakes or get things wrong, it didn’t mean she did not face suffering and difficulties, but it was a form of liberation. Just as any healthy relationship does not make us feel trapped, but is a form of liberation, so the Queen’s relationship with God was a path to greater freedom, greater love and greater joy. It enabled her to see that there is more to life than what the five senses can experience and it prevented her from being trapped in this world. Her faith was the source of her hope
Queen Elizabeth’s faith was never a barrier to relating to people who thought or believed differently from her. She did not turn her back on people because they believed in different values or different life-styles from her. She showed by her example that diversity, though often challenging, is something that makes our communities richer and we should not insist upon uniformity in thought, belief, life-style or action.
We can admire and give thanks to God for Queen Elizabeth’s faith and the way it opened her up to all – at the same time it encourages us to ask questions of ourselves. If we are people of faith, does it liberate us into a fuller life and humanity or does it trap us, enshroud us with guilt and make our lives smaller. If we have no faith, which is a perfectly reasonable place to be, what is it that sustains us and does it give us hope and joy?
So, there we have it. The late Queen kept us in touch with our better nature, being a figure of stillness, reliability and a moral presence. By taking her responsibilities seriously but not taking herself too seriously, listening to the young, she encourages us not to be self-obsessed. As a person fed and sustained by her faith, Queen Elizabeth encourages us to ask ourselves those deeper questions about what feeds and sustains us in our lives. Do our values trap us and hold us back or do they liberate and bring life?
I want to end with a picture that has been doing the rounds. It is a drawing of Queen Elizabeth, clearly recognisable by her clothes, walking away from us. On her left is one of her beloved corgis and with her right hand she is holding the hand of Paddington Bear. As they walk away, the Queen is saying, ‘I have done my duties, Paddington. Please take me to my husband Philip.’ Well she certainly has done her duties and I now like to think of her more fully in the presence of the God she has served so faithfully for so long and enjoying this presence with her beloved Philip.’
God bless you, your Majesty. And thank you for everything.
Readings: Isaiah 61.1-3; Revelation 21.1-7.
Talk for ‘Songs of Praise’ at All Saints, Wootton Courtenay Somerset. 11th September, 2022
Image 1 by Eleanor Tomlinson
Image 2 by Jhoan Cordoba on Pixabay
Image3 by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay