Commemoration Service – Her Majesty the Queen – 11th September 2022
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It doesn’t really need saying that there has been a seismic change in our country this week and in our very foundations. Remembering and casting our minds back; firstly we installed the long expected new prime minister on Monday and Tuesday. This was then rapidly followed by the deeply unanticipated death of our cherished and beloved late Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday, with the proclamation of accession to the throne for His Majesty King Charles III only yesterday.
It has been hard to take in, for many both destabilising and upsetting as grief for what has past grasps us. In the early hours of Friday morning, I even woke up hoping it wasn’t true and it all had been a dream, but it is true.
For Elizabeth, our late Queen, I am confident of her eternal rest in the loving arms of God after a life lived and nourished by Christian devotion and prayer. And also that in a new way she is reuniting with those who have gone before her, her beloved Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, her parents and her sister.
The reading recommended for this Service of Commemoration speaks of that heavenly destination. It is part of the Revelation of John and we are in both visionary and apocalyptic speak (the latter being something we don’t tend towards today but was much more common in the times of Jesus). These words are trying to convey something of the deep truths of God’s love for us. However, it doesn’t help us that the message is also deliberately hidden within it, in case the words were to get into the hands of the persecuting authorities in the times it was written.
Into these words from Revelation, we feel the sense of God being with us, God’s people – the home of God is among mortals – it says. This is the sense of God we have with us through the Holy Spirit in this life. The Holy Spirit unleased by Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension that changes things once and for all and forever. We also know that in this world, we see these things of God in a glass darkly, but one day as it says in 1 Corinthians 13, we will see God face to face. I have always interpreted that one day as when we die and pass into God’s eternal presence and rest for ourselves. I also think that in the Revelation reading the phrase when the first things pass away – where death will be no more, with no more mourning, crying and pain is key. I have long understood this too to mean that journey into God’s eternal presence as well.
It is a comfort to know that our beloved Queen has made that transition from this world to the next, and is restored, and renewed in the loving heart of God. Difficult as these matters are to put into words for us and for the writer of Revelation!
And yet, we need to recognise this huge change and hold the future for our country in our hearts and prayers at what was already a very difficult time. We need to pray for our new monarch as well as grieve for what is now passed and gone. That grief will be buoyed however by a spirit of heartfelt thankfulness for the devoted service to our country and the commonwealth of nations made by our late Queen Elizabeth.
We may remember before the jubilee, I asked lots of individuals from both of the communities I serve as priest, what they most admire about Elizabeth our Queen. In Pen Selwood I did this at the Beacon lighting ceremony and in Wincanton at various events and one of our community coffee mornings. The list of things said ran to several pages for both communities. with common themes emerging about loyalty, service, fortitude, resilience, devotion, duty, strength of character and resolve, steadfastness and so forth. We need to be thankful for all of that and so much more!
Back in June on the Sunday of the Jubilee weekend, I watched the Platinum Jubilee pageant. It was a wildly colourful array of different images from the decades of the Queen’s reign and aspects of celebration from across the country and cultures in the United Kingdom. The scifi geek part of me, loved the bit with the daleks going up the mall, and one of the Dames in Jaguar cars broke down and the smart jaguar having to be pushed. I also like the contribution of the West Country carnival tradition via the Bridgewater carnival float, which took in various carnival teams from Somerset I gather!
At the end of all the diverse and glorious spectacle, it was comforting and reassuring to see her Majesty on the balcony once again, this time in that brilliant emerald green outfit. Yet, at the time, there was also something deeply poignant about it. I had a strange sense that these times were passing, which I couldn’t really put my finger on at the time and I told one of my friends about how I was feeling. I was and am so glad as a country we had been able to show our Queen our profound appreciation for her unprecedented 70 years on the throne.
On social media, shortly after the Platinum jubilee, a drawing of the Queen walking into the horizon appeared, holding the paw of Paddington bear in one hand and her handbag over the other arm, and a corgi sauntering behind. It is a drawing by Eleanor Tomlinson. It kind of spoke into the way I had been feeling.
When I visited that friend I had spoken to, she gave me a genuine print of the drawing as a result in August. Here it is. I know this has been circulating since the Queen’s death too along with some other variants and words. In its own way it is another representation, like our passage in Revelation, of the Queen leaving this realm and the public domain, pointing to the big transition we are currently experiencing – and the Queen’s final eternal journey using William Penn’s words – beyond the horizon of our sight.
As we bid our final farewells to our much loved monarch through this time of mourning and the funeral to come, let’s do it with grateful thankful hearts for all that has been and her long, long reign over us. As we do this we must also contemplate what can we learn from our Queen and particularly about her deep faith in God, and I am going to re-use a little bit here of what I said on Friday evening.
We have learnt a huge amount through Queen Elizabeth’s life and now her death. We have seen a shining example of a Christ centred way to live. A way based on the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in her heart and life. The way of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. The way (in Church of England speak) of seeking the common good and treating everyone graciously, and with dignity and respect.
We have a lot we can continue to learn from our late Queen in how she lived her life. In her death, as I said earlier we have the reassurance of her eternal rest in the heart of our loving God in heaven. Gathering in this good and faithful servant of God’s and our country. Queen Elizabeth knew the way, and the truth and the life that Jesus spoke of. She knew it through God’s overflowing love for her and that is overflowing love we know too.
Let us give thanks for all that has been as we mark the end of the era of Elizabeth II and also pray for our new King – His Majesty King Charles III at the dawning days of his reign. The focus of this service is very much and rightly on our late beloved Queen, but I do want to conclude these thoughts, with two future looking prayers for the times to come: a prayer for our new monarch and a more traditional prayer by William Penn. Let us pray
Everlasting God, we pray for our new King. Bless his reign and the life of our nation. Help us to work together so that truth and justice, harmony and fairness flourish among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Life is eternal and love is immortal and death is only an horizon and an horizon is only the limit of our sight. Lift us strong Son of God, that we may see further. Amen
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995
Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2022, Picture from the Press Association,