What more is there to say that has not been said in the last ten days? I don’t know what can be said that would ever be more eloquent than the thousands upon thousands of pilgrims who have queued and filed past that immortal catafalque – and bowed their heads in respect, or crossed themselves, or waved goodbye, or cried, or saluted. The respect is deafeningly silent, so much louder than words. A shrine exists in Westminster, and it is the stuff of saints.
Can you imagine for a moment what would have been lost if The Queen had died during the lockdowns: no State funeral, masks on everyone, and no participation in her passing? Can you imagine if her increasing frailty had meant she had not lived to celebrate the Jubilee so richly deserved? But these things have not been taken away. It was the perfect ending. In beloved Balmoral, having just invited her fifteenth Prime Minister to form a government, and at a time when the nation needed solace instead of crisis, even in death the Queen was the mother of the nation.
She was, of course, also the mother of the King. None of us can fail to have been impressed with the way in which our new monarch has led us this week, even amidst his own personal grief. That heady mix of private and public that has been the job description now inherited. We pray for him.
I am also aware that many of us also feel this loss personally. If I may, and on behalf of us all, Lord Lieutenant, we are aware that you and Peter were very close to Her Majesty and, indeed, were due to be staying with her last weekend. Instead, you had a Proclamation to perform. Sarah and Peter, our prayers and support are with you too.
We are all in this though. What we have been watching is not an event, but a spiritual experience, something that touches the soul. Perhaps our increasingly secular society is not so secular after all.
We have experienced in recent days the very best of who we are, following the best example of who we can be. We shall not see this again – deep down we know that, not just about Elizabeth, but about ourselves. This is grace upon grace, the anointed one anointing her people whom she loved and served, and behind all the pomp and ceremony, behind all the mystery and celebrity, there rests a quiet confidence in Jesus Christ, a smile that embraced all, and an understanding that you are not the most important one. God bless Queen Elizabeth, the Queen who blessed us.
The fact that so many of us can tell of when we met the Queen gives testimony to her dedication. I met her twice, recently, as a new bishop in Buckingham Palace, one to one, to swear homage, and then once, 21 years ago. The Queen and Prince Philip were visiting St
Albans Cathedral where I was Sub Dean. There was much excitement, and much worrying. You see, only certain cathedrals and chapels are afforded the permission for the choir to wear royal red cassocks if they have a royal foundation. St George’s Chapel, Windsor, Westminster Abbey and so on. The Choir at St Albans had long-since worn identical red cassocks looking back to some obscure Saxon king. It made them feel important. Would the Queen notice? We were advised that she would and would not be amused. So, the decision was to go informal; the choristers would wear their school uniforms. Problem solved. Alongside this our middle son, Sam was the youngest chorister. He had a couple of sleepless nights worrying what to say if the Queen spoke to him. We kept reassuring him that he would be fine, and he only had to do two things: tell the truth, just answer any question she asks truthfully, and call her Ma’am not Maam - Ma’am as in jam. After lots of practice he’d got it. Just tell the truth. The day came and the choristers were duly lined up, with Sam, the smallest and youngest probationer, front and centre, with his long-lost angelic face aglow. As the Queen moved through the nave, I could see what was going to happen. With a posy in her hand, Her Majesty naturally went to speak to the choristers, and made a beeline to speak to the youngest. ‘What’s your name?’ she asked our son. ‘Sam, Ma’am’, he replied. Phew. ‘And what colour cassocks do you wear?’, she asked. ‘Red, Ma’am!’ The Director of Music nearly fainted. I can tell you that, later, letters were exchanged. We have the loveliest photo of the moment.
The very fact that so many of us have personal stories and encounters with the greatest female monarch of history tells us all we need to know about her commitment and faithfulness. We knew her, whether or not we had ever met her. In her we felt safe, we felt known, we felt loved, we knew the love of God. In her realm, the kingdom of God reigned.
And so, we mourn. We, as a people - many as one, one in memory. Tomorrow will be painful; there will be no joy at the final farewell. We are in mourning. But this is not the end – and oh how Elizabeth did know this. Our mourning will turn into a new morning. Mourning will turn into morning, the new day. The black armband of mourning with a ‘u’ in the middle of the word, will turn into the bright morning – the morning of the new day – without a ‘u’ in the middle. That new morning will dawn and become our light. The mourning of the valley of the shadow of death will turn into the morning of Easter Day. This is our hope. This is our joy. This was her belief. When Elizabeth our Queen knew her death was coming, a day after forming a new government, she also knew the promise of new life in Christ her king.
When Elizabeth was just 25, she made a choice. The mourning after the death of her beloved father could have prevailed – it could have won. But she answered the ‘u’ with duty and sacrifice. In our mourning, in our future choices, moulded by this moment in history – like Elizabeth at 25 – we can recognise – it is all about ‘u’. It is all about you personally. What is your response to your calling? What are you going to devote your life to, be it long or short? Are you simply going to enjoy your privileges – or are you going to share those gifts to change the world? Where is the ‘you‘ in your story? Are you going to leave life mourning or are
You going to leave life without a ‘u’ to the new morning: the Morning of Jesus, the word made flesh?
We may not all be monarchs, but we can choose to follow the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And if you do, following the example of our late Queen, you too will rest in peace and reign in glory. Amen.
+Stephen, Bishop of Salisbury