The Queen of our nation died not on her own birthday but on the birthday of the Queen of Heaven. This may not have been widely picked up during the recent media coverage of our monarch’s death, but it is a point worth making and the very act of making it speaks to the breadth of the Church of England.
While the Queen was well known to be a somewhat low church Prayer Book Anglican, a position and integrity we respect, we are also right to be bold in proclaiming that our own movement has its own gifts to offer, in this context exemplified liturgically by the plethora of Requiem Masses so faithfully offered for the repose of Her late Majesty’s soul.
In fact, recent events have shown us at our very best. Avoiding the mawkishness prevalent elsewhere (‘God saved the Queen!’ said one online preacher), we have succeeded in offering dignified and sincere acts of worship which have highlighted not only the late Queen’s Christian faith but also our own mortality. This can only have been a comfort for those feeling bereaved by recent events and for those for whom earlier bereavements had been brought to the surface.
It may come as a surprise to some that Paddington Bear is not the Mediator for our sins, but I am sure those entering Society churches would have been left in no doubt as to the absolute centrality of Our Lord in the economy of salvation. Just the opportunity to talk about some of the central aspects of our faith without inviting ridicule has been welcome.
And it cannot have escaped our attention that there has been a sacramental dimension to the period of national mourning; it has almost seemed as though that that notion of the sacramental has defied the normal chronology of events – it has seemingly defied time. An anointed monarch has been laid to rest with great solemnity and the world has looked on entranced, affirming something eternal.
I sense that the Committal at St George’s, Windsor will forever be etched in our minds; especially the symbolism of the broken wand and the enunciation of ‘Go forth, Christian soul, from this world’ as the coffin was slowly lowered. Continuing on our theme of being bold, perhaps we can point to the presence of three alumni of St Stephen’s House, Oxford, in the sanctuary at Windsor and the rich liturgical grounding that seminary clearly provided.
A familiar refrain across the twelve days of national mourning was ‘We shall not see Her Majesty’s like again’. There is naturally some truth in this, most obviously in terms of longevity, but also in terms of the admirable traits the late Queen embodied. Hers was a generation which had, after all, witnessed world war and knew at first had the true meaning of sacrifice.
In saying this, though, we must not discount the very real possibility of remarkable things happening when God is at work. We know this in our own part of the Church in the sense that, just when things seem grim, a priestly vocation is fostered, or a new disciple is made. Similarly, we cannot write off our nation’s future on the basis that the past was always better.
Perhaps some of those watching Her Majesty’s funeral rites were filled with a sense of awe and would like to discover more about their source and meaning. Perhaps others developed a previously untapped desire to serve others and are intent on acting out that vocation. And maybe each of us learnt a little more about the transitory nature of our lives in the midst of the grandeur of world affairs.
The overriding sentiment has been one of a simple and heartfelt thank you to Her Majesty for just over 70 years of uncomplaining service as our Head of State. And here the civic can join with the religious as gratitude is at the heart of so much of the Church’s witness – ‘we thank you for feeding us’.
The inscription marking the Queen’s final resting place simply reads Elizabeth II 1926 – 2022, indicating both her humility and the starkness of the history being played out in front of our eyes. Yet at the end, even those considerations fade away.
As the late Queen said the in her 2017 Christmas message: ‘He knew rejection, hardship and persecution; and yet it is Jesus Christ’s generous love and example which has inspired me through good times and bad.’ Indeed so, Ma’am; rest in peace, Your Majesty.