Preached on the Sunday following the death of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II
This is indeed the will of my Father’ says the Lord, ‘that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’
The Christian hope is in the life of the world to come; that nothing is lost and all is redeemed.
What that means in practical terms is that we live our lives knowing that heaven is real, that our identity is not extinguished at death, but rather fulfilled, and the crowning of the Creation is to be a New Heaven and a New Earth.
We believe, in the words of the Song of Songs, that ‘many waters cannot quench love; neither can the floods drown it’.
We have this hope because Jesus Christ has conquered death.
To live the Christian hope is to anchor our lives in the worship and adoration of God, made known in Christ Jesus and sustained by the Holy Spirit.
For Catholic Christians this means faithfulness in receiving the sacraments; perseverance in a careful life of prayer; deep attention to the Scriptures; and living lives that are not turned in on themselves but look outwards in service of others and, in so doing, serving Christ himself.
That pattern is something of what we know of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
It would be hard to have missed over the last three days or so, the outpouring of words expressing memories, tribute and praise of our late Queen, and one of the key features is her sense of service and duty.
Those characteristics didn’t come from nowhere; they came from being anchored in the Christian Faith of which she was, as her son now is, Defender.
Our late Queen, for all her life in palaces, surrounded by servants and a Royal Court, understood that she was a servant.
It isn’t always a given that kings, queens and leaders should be like that.
Jesus said of the leaders of people that they ‘lord it over others’; it is a verity that leaders generally incline to be tyrants and despots.
We see it in our world today as much as in history; there are national leaders who do not see themselves as servants of their people, in fact quite the contrary.
The idea that Kings and Emperors could trample over everyone is broken only because of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, declares himself servant of all.
Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeorum (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews); his throne is the cross, his ‘palaces’ are all the places where forgiveness and salvation is brought and where the Kingdom of God is proclaimed.
Jesus set this pattern at the Last Supper, he washed his disciples’ feet, the origin of the Royal Maundy ceremony, and called us to the banquet where we share his life.
In the light of Jesus Christ kingship and majesty cannot be conceived in the same way again.
Not all British monarchs have lived this out; not all Christians, including priests and Popes, have lived this out, yet that is what we are called to: service of God, service of our neighbour
Yet many have understood this call to service.
It’s beautifully captured in the phrase of St Gregory the Great, who was the Pope who sent Augustine and his companions to re-evangelise the English nation.
Gregory aspired to be, in his native Latin, ‘servus servorum Dei’: ‘servant of the servants of God’.
Elizabeth II was formed by that example and is an inspiration because of it.
We give thanks to God for this Christian woman, called to be a monarch, who was at her anointed her baptism and confirmation, like us all, and then, unlike any of us, anointed Queen.
This echoes Psalm 23, a Psalm of David, the shepherd king of Israel, ‘you, LORD, have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over’.
King David continues, ‘Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever’.
Goodness and mercy followed our late Queen all her days; and our Christian hope is that she now dwells in the house of the Lord for ever.
She lived her life in that hope, and may we all be inspired similarly.
Our sadness will pass; the storms of Thursday and Friday have literally passed, and the sun is shining again: in that light hear again the words of the prophet Isaiah:
And the Lord God will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces. (Isaiah 25.6-9)
There is Christian hope: in living scripture.
And today, in the sadness of Her Late Majesty’s death, we can draw deeply too from the comfort of Psalm 23, which promises that the LORD will ‘spread a table before us’; this points us to the Eucharist in which we share and the banquet of heaven which it prefigures.
Of that mystery Christ says, ‘This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’
Her Late Majesty held that hope and shared it with the nation and world.
She was an evangelist, a sharer of the Glorious Gospel of Christ.
May the Lord draw her to himself, anoint her with his love and draw her to the banquet of heaven. And in His Majesty the King’s words, ‘May “flights of Angels sing thee to thy rest”‘