This is a sermon delivered by Reverend. Dr. Nevsky Everett on The Queen’s life at the Anglican Church of the Resurrection, Bucharest on Sunday, 11 September.
‘I will raise them up on the last day.’ (John 6. 40). In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The last couple of days have felt unreal. We have come face to face with the profound sense of loss – of grief on the death of her late majesty; the loss of an age passing away.
I never met the Queen. But my earliest memory, my earliest awareness of her is having mistaken her image on a banknote for my grandmother. They had the same short, curly grey hair.
And for many of us, certainly for people of my generation, Her Late Majesty was the embodiment of a grandmother figure – a constant, wise presence in the background of our lives.
And so it is no surprise that we should feel this loss so acutely. For almost all of us, she is the only monarch we will have known. Her image on stamps and coins; her royal wave;her hats in bold colours so she could be seen in a crowd.
The first British monarch of the television age, it is she who graced our television screens, and whose voice came into our homes at 3pm on Christmas Day.
We all knew, in theory, that we would see this moment – but it is still a shock.I don’t think I really thought it would happen.
I remember after the jubilee celebrations earlier this year that that was one milestone, and that I should make a mental note to start planning for her 100th birthday. I thought she would just go on for ever.
The world has changed so much in her reign – technologically, socially. Kings, dictators, presidents have come and gone. She has lived through war and peace, but as Larkin (editor’s note: English poet Philip Larkin) wrote for the silver jubilee:
In times when nothing stood
But worsened, or grew strange,
There was one constant good:
She did not change.
In 2011, at the funeral of Otto von Hapsburg, the ancient Hapsburg burial custom was used. His body was taken to the Imperial crypt – the door sealed – and the herald knocked.
The capuchin friar inside asked, ‘Who demands entry?’ The herald replied, ‘Otto of Austria; former Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, Prince Royal of Hungary and Bohemia, etc. etc. Grand Duke of Tuscany, etc. Grand Prince of Transylvania, etc. etc.’
You get the gist. The friar inside replied, ‘We don’t know him.’ At the second knock, the same question is asked. This time Otto was introduced as Dr Otto von Hapsburg, with a list of his civic achievements.
The same reply is given. ‘We don’t know him.’ The herald knocked a third time. ‘Who demands entry?’ This third time, the herald replied, ‘Otto, a sinful, mortal, human being.’
The friar opened the gate. ‘So he may come in.’
Her Late Majesty’s funeral will have its own rituals and ceremonial, but I can’t help but feel that she would approve of this – of coming to her final resting place as Elizabeth, a mortal, sinful human being.
Because in her long life of service to Great Britain and Northern Ireland, her other realms and territories, and as Head of the Commonwealth, she has been guided by her faith, and a promise she made on her 21st birthday, in 1947:
‘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. But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share it.’
And God certainly helped her make good that vow!
In 1977, as Her Late Majesty celebrated 25 years on the throne, she said: ‘When I was 21, I pledged my life to the service of our people and I asked for God’s help to make good that vow. Although that vow was made in my salad days, when I was green in judgement, I do not regret nor retract one word of it.’
A life of duty and service, guided by her faith.
Her own personal devotion has been widely noted by her family and those who knew her. But for most of us, this sense of Christian faith and service was most apparent in Her Late Majesty’s Christmas broadcasts.
In 2002 she said, ‘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!’
Through all the ups and downs of her long reign, through all the social and political change, through moments of crisis, even through her own personal loss and grief, she reminded us, again and again, of the central truths of Christianity: of love, faithfulness, and reconciliation.
‘For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role-model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.’ (Christmas broadcast, 2014)
She reminded us that whoever we are, whatever our place in society, that we are to love our neighbours and we are not to forget those in need.
‘In difficult times we may be tempted to find excuses for self-indulgence and to wash our hands of responsibility. Christmas stands for the opposite… we need to go out and look for opportunities to help those less fortunate than ourselves, even if that service demands sacrifice.’ (Christmas broadcast, 1980).
She reminds us of the Gospel’s call to be transformed by love: ‘For Christians, as for all people of faith, reflection, meditation and prayer help us to renew ourselves in God’s love, as we strive daily to become better people. The Christmas message shows us that this love is for everyone. There is no one beyond its reach.’ (Christmas broadcast, 2013).
In this Eucharist, we give thanks for her life of service, her sense of duty and her moral compass. We bring to God our own sense of loss, the feeling of uprootedness, of an age passing away.
And above all, we find here in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our sure ground and our hope for the future. We don’t know what the future will bring, especially at this time of national and international crisis.
Those words of Larkin are as true now as they ever were, ‘In times when nothing stood/ But worsened, or grew strange.’
We pray for God’s blessing on the King, and ask that those in authority under him might govern with wisdom and compassion.
But whatever lies ahead, here we are nourished by the bread of life and we know that for God, nothing, no-one, is lost, but will be raised up on the last day.
The duty, service and faith of Her Late Majesty will continue to encourage and inspire for generations – and we will have our part in that, by following her example of devoted service in our own lives, however that may look.
We commit Her Late Majesty into the hands of almighty God, who called her into his service. May she find rest from her labours with Christ;
And may she be welcomed into the company of saints and angels – Elizabeth, a mortal, sinful human being – who knew, throughout her life, the grace and mercy of God.