The nation will come to a near halt on Monday; the ceremonial will be distilled from centuries of tradition – as will the coronation in due course, we will be reminded just how embedded the Church is; how Christian values, teaching and expression are found at these most profound moments.
A fellow clergy-person, now retired went to church last Sunday in a suit – “I felt it was only right in remembering my “boss” of 50 years.” (that is the period of his time ordained). For the Monarch is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England; Elizabeth 1st changed the language from Supreme Head (Which Henry VIII claimed) to Supreme Governor, as Elizabeth (rightly) understood that Christ was the Supreme Head of the Church. Our recent queen like her namesake also had profound Christian faith, yet ruled over a nation that was religiously divided; back then it was Catholic, Protestant, Puritan, now our nation is multi-faith not just multi-denominational. Henry VIII also held on to the title “Defender of the Faith”, and Fid Def (the Latin version in short form) remains on our coins as a reminder of this. Charles was quoted a few years ago, saying he wanted to be Defender of Faith, that is embracing all faiths, any faiths, but in his most recent statement he seems to be following his mother in recognising that as Defender of the Faith, part of his task is to make sure that all faiths are able to flourish in this country, that authentic Christian Faith is about welcome and not exclusion, which is not the same as saying all faiths are the same in essence, or we need to accept all faith statements as equally true.
We live in a world where the new and the glitzy are often at the forefront, but Monday’s funeral will be full of “old” ceremonial, it will deliberately call on centuries of tradition and the world will watch, possibly at times bemused, at times amazed. It is a timely reminder maybe, if we choose to note it, that our history is important, because it impacts the present. Our religious history in this nation, has been impacted by the great events, not least Henry VIII, Charles I, William of Orange. We have been blessed, and there are deep religious scars and suspicions. The State Funeral is not a time to open old wounds, nor should it be used as a bludgeon to silence other voices. No monarch is perfect, nor is all that is done in their name. Our late Queen was a woman who sought to follow the way of Jesus within the role she believed was hers by duty, and I think the vast majority will remember her as someone of integrity, duty, commitment and service. In her royal lifetime an empire gave way to a British Commonwealth and then a Commonwealth of Nations, and the nation still has to come to terms with its imperial past; we always have to come to terms with our history, in both celebration and repentance / acknowledgement of wrong done, or right not done. A funeral is a time to commend the departed – and the living – to Almighty God, and that should be our focus this week.
Our late Queen, though the monarch and Supreme Governor (etc) spoke of service, serving God and serving the nation. She sought strength from God, in prayer, in church attendance, in Christian counsel from bishops and chaplains. She prayed for the coming of the Kingdom, not of her Son but of the Son. Though I don’t know I am sure she will have committed herself to the mercy of God, and sought God’s peace and claimed God’s promises.
This week I have spent quite some time with a number of people who know their life is in its final stages; like Her Majesty, or maybe, she like them – because we are all equally children of God – they are seeking that gift of peace, desiring God’s mercy, and putting their hope in God’s promises
I am grateful to those who have helped me in my faith, and to those who have set me an example. I can include the late Queen as one of those, who spoke of her faith and sought to serve her nation in the role she was given It is neither patronising nor presumptuous to say of her “Well done good and faithful servant” and there is no better epitaph for anyone.