It was such a simple sentence on Friday, “The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon.”
At a stroke, the world changed, and yet the world went on as it always does.
If you have experienced the death of a loved one, you will understand that. When a loved one dies, our world changes profoundly, but we look out the window and there are still cars driving by, the neighbours taking the dog for a walk, the 6 o’clock news is still on, Corrie and the football are still there, meals still have to be prepared. Yet everything has changed, it’s like the world had shifted on its axis somehow.
Maybe all we can do is sit in tears, or stunned silence. Sometimes talking, sometimes quiet, sometimes we’re fine and what we say makes sense, sometimes we make no sense at all. Sometimes devouring a big slice of cake, other times food is irrelevant, it sits untouched. Thinking there is something we must do, but realizing the person we were doing it for, or with, is no longer there, the person we did it for is gone, the need for that caring action is no longer there. Feeling a compulsion to go and do something to mark the loss, not a usual thing but something outside our normal pattern, but it has to be done right then, no waiting.
This has happened to the Royal family, from King Charles III to the youngest of the children, for all their wealth and the help around them, this has happened to them.
Whatever you thought of the Queen, whatever you think of the monarchy, there is no denying that Thursday afternoon marked a turning point in history. It was the end of the second Elizabethan age. It is a marker in history. And yes, things kept happening, but then a lot of people had that compulsion to go to a place where they could mark the Queen’s passing, or honour her with flowers, a prayer, a candle lit – online or at a physical location. Taxi drivers lined their cars up in the Mall as a sign of respect. The following day the new King Charles and his Queen Consort drove to the Palace, but instead of sweeping past the crowds gathered outside, they stopped the car, got out and joined with the other mourners who had congregated outside Buckingham Palace.
Two themes have stood out for me listening to the hours of tv coverage. The first is the faith that the Queen had, the way it played out and the ways people saw it demonstrated. And the second is the impact she had on her son, and his pledge to follow her example. And these can be seen in our reading today.
The Queen’s faith helped her trust in the Lord for the situations she had to face, so many and so hugely varied over her long lifetime, and in so many different circumstances. Not that everyone thought she’d got everything right all the time, and probably she didn’t think she’d done a perfect job, she was human after all and subject to the same foibles as all of us. But the overall impression was of a steadfast woman who, as well as keeping up with affairs of state and the world, raised four children, worked alongside her husband, shared enjoyment of life with many. Her prime ministers speak of a woman of good sense and grounding, a breadth and depth of experience, and a good sense of humour. She displayed tact and good statesmanship in many of her dealings with the Commonwealth. She was faithful in prayer, and as head of the Church of England, was concerned for its well being, but also interested to hear the faith stories of others, whatever their faith. Her faith gave her a different, a greater perspective on the things she was dealing with, she was guided by a sense of the Lord’s leading, the Lord’s heavenly as well as earthly provision.
And secondly, the impact she had on her son, now King Charles III. I remember an illustration of this reading which applies here. Jesus says to his disciples that they know the way to the place where I am going, and then says I am the way. It’s like being on a long walk, or maybe even a pilgrimage. People don’t tend to walk altogether, usually there are leaders or super fit people way out at the front, the folks in the middle of the pack, and a few who find the walk hard, and they are slower, or maybe they just take their time. From time to time, they all wonder when they are going to get there, or even where the path will take them next. Then someone who’s been ahead for a while may wait for the middle of the pack and the stragglers, or come back to them, and say, “It’s okay, keep on, I know where the path is going! There’s a bend ahead, but then the path goes downhill, it’s an easy run down to a really lovely looking hostel” Or they might say, “It’s okay, but hang in there, there’s a really steep climb ahead, but you’ll manage it”. Having someone to tell you what’s ahead makes a huge difference. It IS NOT the same as walking that path yourself, but it does give us a chance to prepare. And as everyone knows, King Charles has served a very long apprenticeship. The guidance and encouragement his mother the Queen has given him will stay with him, as the word from the front runners on the walk did for those behind. The Queen isn’t there to have discussions with King Charles any more, but her guidance and encouragement will stay with him.
In our own lives, and as a nation, we need to hear the words of Jesus: “Trust in God. I am the way, the truth and the life. From now on you know the Father and have seen him.” That’s a lot to get our heads around, and yet it is an assurance that at whatever level we are working, whether in our personal lives, our working lives, places we have a great deal of responsibility or none, it is relevant. God, his teaching through Jesus, is there to help us, guide us and encourage us to keep on the journey towards him in our lives. Much of this is done through prayer. Prayer uttered so often becomes prayer answered. Be brave to utter the prayer, the answer may be profound.
And for us all, there is a very profound answer to an earthly concern, where do we find peace in the midst of change? Jesus says to his disciples in v.27 of our reading: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” The peace that Jesus talks about is his peace, the peace that we can’t fathom out, the peace that passes understanding. It is the peace that will help us, in some way. I haven’t the imagination of God to know what way that will be, but God will help us deal with the rising energy prices, with climate change, with the war in Ukraine. But we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, and our prayer lines open so not only can we be honest about our feelings when talking to God about our lives, but we can keep our our hearts and minds open to receive the wisdom he has to teach us.
And of course we don’t do this journey, this walk or pilgrimage alone. Our Church motto says, “Following Jesus together”, and whether we are leaders, in the middle of the pack or stragglers, we need each other to help and encourage us as we face our individual and collective lives together.
I end with a prayer from a series of thanksgiving prayers for the life of Queen Elizabeth which sums all this up, and it isn’t a prayer which says “I”, it says “we”:
in whom we live and move and have our being,
grant that your goodness and mercy shall follow us
all the days of our lives,
that we may ever trust in your unfailing love; through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.