Words. So many words. From the moment that concerns were first expressed about the Queen’s condition on Thursday afternoon and on, through the announcement of her death till now, words. Hours and hours of news coverage on radio and the TV, interviews, opinions, reminiscences and discussion. Page after page of newsprint, accompanied by any number of photographs and video clips of the world’s most iconic figure. Words, not just here but in what we are encouraged to call the Realms and Territories. The Commonwealth and beyond – many millions mourn her death and through words try to encapsulate something of her life.
My colleagues and I, who sit with families in their grief, know that summing up a life is an impossible task: nevertheless we try to attempt the impossible for no one can express in words alone what a life means or has meant. We think we know each other but our knowledge is imperfect and we see only in part. How often have we heard families express their feelings that ‘they never knew mum or dad’ – that they wished they had asked parents about their earlier life, why they did this or that? Inside every person there is a hidden world that few discover or are allowed to see and, for all that she lived her life before the whole world my guess is that Her Majesty the Queen was truly known by very few – her beloved Philip, of course, and the wider family perhaps in lesser measure.
And so there are any number of words that we use to describe her, dependant upon the lens through which we saw her. She was the country’s ‘grandmother’ – so said the lady in front of me in the shops on Friday. She was ‘one of us’: her family’s ups and downs echoing those of our own families. She was ‘our Sovereign Lady’: our Head of State representing us all, dressed in the state robes and carrying the emblems of state to open Parliament. She was Supreme Governor of the Church of England, Head of the Commonwealth, Patron of any number of Charities. But these words aren’t enough are they? They tell us ‘what she was’ not ‘who she was’.
For ‘who she was’ we need other words. Some of things that mattered to her? Duty is often mentioned alongside Her Majesty. She remarkably ‘did her duty’ as monarch right till the day of her death – welcoming the new Prime Minister to Balmoral just two days before. Duty, ‘family’…Family is a second word we attach to her. As I have already said, her family’s life had echoes of our own. We followed her engagement and marriage, the birth of children and their first days at school. We have seen family weddings and funerals, disappointments and moments of great joy, tragedy and grief – in amongst the grief of these days it is probably true to say that some of the sadness we feel at this time will be for others we have known and loved and lost – our lives bound with hers.
Duty, family and ‘service’. Service is a powerful word. She promised to serve this nation and she did so freely, taking to herself the vocation she had grown into and filling it to the full. At times it seemed from the outside as if this vocation to serve was unfair, the Royal Family ‘caught in a trap’, forced to perform for an ungrateful nation. But she gave the impression that ‘service is perfect freedom’ – opening any number of buildings, waving from a car or carriage, showing interest in each person she met. It was noticeable that King Charles spoke in His address the other night of offering the nation his love – that was it, wasn’t it, for his mother. Love of this Kingdom, yes, but of people in all of their difference.
And one last word…the one word I really offer to you alongside the millions of others. For me it is ‘faithfulness’. She was faithful.
‘Faithful’ in the sense that she was a person of Christian faith who gave her allegiance to God before she gave her allegiance to any other. She was a faithful Christian lady who said her prayers, read and sought to understand the scriptures, worshipped week in and week out and served her neighbour. Her Christian faith enabled her to respect those of other faiths. It was not narrow or exclusive but broad and inclusive: she is remembered as someone who could bring people of all backgrounds together – a Christian trait if ever there was one.
But faithful too in the more general meanings of the word – constancy and steadfastness. Her Majesty’s reign across seventy years has seen huge change in this nation and across the world – throughout she was there: somehow able to embody stability when everything else around her was shifting. ‘Stability’. Faithfulness, stability, steadfastness, constancy: not quite ‘God is in His heaven and all is well’ but akin to it. At the heart of our common life this one person who was committed to our wellbeing and the wellbeing of the Commonwealth of nations.
In our reading from the Old Testament the prophet Jeremiah reminded us that steadfast love and faithfulness are central to the nature of God.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
This constant, loving presence enriched the Queen’s life each and every morning. She showed it in her own life and through it she blessed us, her people.
And this steadfast love and faithfulness can be shown in our lives too. It is to be honoured in our closest relationships amongst family and friends. It can be heard as we mourn those dearest to us ‘who were always there, the heart of our families’. It is seen in the quiet and gentle commitment to others that people offer in public service and voluntary work. It is there in the ‘year in, year out’ tending of those who are frail, or in need, the care of those who cannot care for themselves.
Constancy, steadfastness, faithfulness, love: we celebrate these things in Her Majesty the Queen. We honour them in our common life and we are people of hope for they are of the nature of God. As we mourn as a nation, we hear again our reading:
‘The Lord is my portion’ – this ever-loving God ‘therefore we will hope in Him.’
May the loving kindness of our ever faithful God strengthen us in His service, now and always. Amen
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