Sermons & services

Sermon at the Requiem for Queen Elizabeth II

Published Sunday 11th Sept. 2022, at 1:36 p.m.

So how will you remember her? What will you remember her for? Duty? Service? Devotion? Patriotism? All of these are true and any one of them, on its own, would be a shining memorial, worthy of a her life well lived. She was all of these: and more. Because I want us to think about one particular aspect of her. Her faith. Over the last few days, many people have spoken of the importance of faith to Queen Elizabeth. And I don’t believe it’s possible to speak about her, to understand her, without understanding the role of faith in the life Queen Elizabeth the Second. Her faith informed and shaped her life. It was its foundation and its meaning. In a few minutes time, you will hear me say the prayer of self-offering: where we promise to offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, as living sacrifices to God. And I think this idea – so embedded into our liturgy – the liturgy which the Queen knew so well – was deeply informative for her life and reign. You see this idea in one of the Queen’s earliest public speeches given in South Africa where she promised the Commonwealth nations – then Empire: I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong. This offering of herself in the service of others is a conscious imitation of the life of Jesus. In the life of the Queen, we saw a reflection of her faith in the one who came not to be served, but to serve: Jesus himself. Christ the servant King. In her first Christmas broadcast in 1952, she said: 'Pray for me … that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.’ In fact, those Christmas Day speeches tell us much about the faith of the sovereign. Her favourite parable was that of the Good Samaritan with its message of unconditional love. They also frequently, though unsurprisingly, refer to Jesus. As she said in her Christmas broadcast in December 2000: ‘For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life.’ A couple of days ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, reminded us that when the Queen arrived at Westminster Abbey for her coronation, the first thing she did was kneel in private prayer before the high altar. In other words, said the Archbishop, she gave her allegiance to God before anyone gave their allegiance to her. It demonstrated that her life was a life rooted in faith and prayer. Concentrated on the person of Jesus. This faith in Jesus – this trust in him – this focus on him – was at the heart of her life: an inspiration and anchor, she called it. And all of us need to take lessons from her life. Her lifestyle reflected Christian values such as service, forgiveness, reconciliation, and piety. And she did it quietly, in a very understated, unostentatious, very English way. This life of faith, fidelity, service, dedication – yes, and duty – are values which seem on the decline in our society. Yet she lived and stands as a shining example of them to our world. And as a clarion call to imitate her, just as she imitated her Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. I think if the Church of England had a way of canonising its own saints, I think she would be well on the way. Not that she was perfect: no saint has ever been perfect. We are all frail and fallen human beings. But if a saint is one who we honour for their imitation of the values of the life of Jesus Christ, then surely she would be in the running. It is this humanity – through which shines the light of Christ – that makes her so beloved. People would speak about how she would light up a room and how, when she left, all would feel a sense of having had their spirits lifted. It’s just one of the many, many reasons that we rightly grieve for her. As she herself said: ‘Grief is the price we pay for love’. But I would add something to that. It’s that our faith in God – like her faith in God – means that we believe that the God who is love comes to heal us in our grief. The God who is love comes to comfort us in our sorrow and hurt. And one of the ways this comes about is through our faith in the Resurrection. As I’ve said so many times before: Christianity is about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus or it is about nothing. Because it is through our sharing in his death through baptism, that we also share in his resurrection life. You may not think of the Queen like this but remember: just as she was baptised into the Body of Christ, which is the Church, so were you. Yes, she was your Queen. Yes, she was your sovereign. But she was also your sister in the Lord. And though death may take our loved ones from us physically, because we are all in Christ through baptism, death is not the end of the story. It’s why we believe in the communion of the saints which straddles time and space because all are one in Christ. This is the foundation of our Christian hope – as it was the Queen’s. As she put it so memorably during that extraordinary address to the nation at the height of the covid pandemic: ‘we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again’. She may not have been talking about faith at that point, but her words are so very true of our shared faith. I want to end with some advice on the Christian life from Her Majesty herself. I’m not sure I could have put it any better. Remember her words. Try to put them into practice every day. And give thanks for the life and witness of Queen Elizabeth the Second. In 2002, she said this: “I know just how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad. Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God.” May she rest in peace. God save the King!