St Mary’s Hambleden
September 11, 2022
Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33
1 Corinthians 4:16-5:4
We come together today to recognise that this is a time of great change and historical significance in our country and around the world. The news has constant commentary. Many people carry grief which events like this bring to the fore. There is fresh grief as we mourn the death of a beloved and faithful Queen. There is joy at the proclamation and accession of our new King.
Where do we go with this? It can be difficult to find time to reflect on all that has happened in only a few days. Not many people seem to know the rules of modern day mourning (if there are any); we are not sure about what is appropriate to do or not do.
A priest posted on a Facebook group to which we belong, about popping into the village bank on Friday afternoon. A man confronted him and shouted, ‘why aren’t you in the church?! The Queen has died!’ The priest engaged in a conversation with the man about the events of the past day. It turns out the man was also upset that the village hall had cancelled bingo that evening.
My prayer is that this morning we can come together to lament the sadness of her death and remember with gratitude all that she was to so many. Also start to get our balance back! The readings were suggested by the Church of England for today. Each of them have the common threads of: time, being lost, life changing and God’s faithfulness.
Time Moves On
It is still less than 72 hours since The Queen’s death was announced. Really it is. Thinking back to Thursday feels like years ago. Everything seems to be happening so fast; keeping in mind that we are mostly spectators to the events going on in Scotland and London. It is difficult to fathom what is happening in the eye of the storm and how those in the inner circle are actually feeling. Yet the plans for this time and event have been in the works for years, if not decades.
Time moves on and so do we. It feels like it is moving fast but there are no more minutes or hours in a day then there was on Wednesday. Lamentations, Psalm 121, and 2nd Corinthians each speak of time changing. God’s mercies are new every morning. God is watching over us day and night, Our inner nature is being renewed day by day.
When someone we love dies it is normal to want the world and everything to stop. To sit still for just a moment. I am not convinced that time heals all wounds. Healing often requires rest and sitting still. This is not what time does! Time waits for no man and no Queen. Even in the deepest grief, God is watching over us and we are changing. Go slowly if you need to but keep moving.
Even if we feel lost, God is not
Sometimes we do move in the wrong direction and can get lost; physically, spiritually, emotionally. Despite all the protocol, instructions and the immaculate planning of Operation London Bridge we still feel adrift in all of this. Again, very easy to do in the midst of grief and uncertainty. Many people have been surprised at the emotion that has surfaced in the last three days.
The pilgrim in Psalm 121 is having a hard time; he is far from home. Likely travelling to Jerusalem for a major feast. This should be a time of celebration with family and friends. Instead he has found himself in the physical and metaphorical wilderness. He has not given up though. He does some very sensible things: he stops, he looks up and rediscovers that his help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Chin up! It takes all of two verses for this realisation. The pilgrim then spends the next six verses reassuring his fellow pilgrims that God is with them too! He changes from my to your.
In 2000, The Queen decided to speak more about her personal faith in her Christmas Messages and she has ever since. That year she said, “For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life”.
I am bold enough to say that this is the greatest gift that she left us. This is what likely underpinned her life and gave her the strength, grace and fortitude to do all that she did. So when the changes and chances of her life came, she was on solid ground.
Life changes but God’s love is steadfast
Change has come quickly in line with protocols and in some ways it feels cold-hearted. Not only here but in the colonies as well. My sister, a lawyer in Calgary, told me of her utter shock at turning up at the Court of King’s Bench on Friday morning! Wait – what?! Never have pronouns changed so rapidly. Do you remember the last time you sang God Save the Queen? I am glad that I did not know it would be the last time but I am now saddened that we won’t.
Her Majesty was our rock, she has been described by multitudes of people as a constant in their lives. Her consistency runs through the multitude of interviews like a golden thread. It is true that she was the only monarch that many people have ever known.
Her image has been on millions if not billions of coins, bank notes and stamps; her portraits hung in government buildings the world over. She had the wonderful gift of making people feel seen and heard. She was there when we needed her. At home with us on Christmas Day, at the races, on the balcony, on the telly during Covid when we needed her non-anxious presence and messages of peace. She loved us and we love her.
However, she was a rock that was temporary. As we all are. In the words of The Committal, ‘For he knows of what we are made; he remembers that we are but dust. Our days are like the grass; we flourish like the flowers of the field…’ We want people to last though; at least longer than us. Looking in the mirror every morning, this earthly tent, is not the material of eternity.
Paul is talking about our home in heaven that is permanent; not a flimsy, fleshy tent that we walk around in now. Do not lose heart, Paul says at the beginning of 2 Corinthians, even though it is all changing, we are being renewed day by day. Better things are ahead, eternity in heaven. This takes some imagination but much better than holding the notion that there is nothing beyond this life.
God is Faithful in all things
How do we know that there is more beyond this life? God is faithful in all things. Lamentation speaks of the steadfast love of the Lord never ceasing, his mercies are new every morning. There is a quality to this love, it is not fleeting or fickle. John’s Gospel speaks of the long-term will of God that all should be raised up on the last day. God is faithful. When we stand on and in the faithfulness of God, we can love fully and be fully loved.
We are overwhelmed with commentary from the news channels and social media. Many pundits are getting their day! I am not sure if that makes it better or worse? It is at least distracting. However much we watch it, it will not sustain us ultimately. Only Jesus can do that; I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Much of the commentary is about her virtue and seemingly endless capability in the role of monarch, the influence of her parents and sister, and her marriage to Prince Phillip. All very good and great things. Ultimately though it was her faith that sustained her. She was faithful to us because God was faithful to her and she was faithful to God.
I am going to end with some borrowed words from my friend and former tutor, the Revd Dr Michael LLoyd…
Her whole life was characterised by unfussy, unflashy, unfailing faithfulness. Her whole life pointed in the same direction, and therefore had integrity and impact. It also made her a reassuring symbol of reliability and dependability. Her Majesty prayed this prayer as she prepared for her Coronation:
Into thy hands, O Lord, we commend ourselves. Be with us in our going out and our coming in. Strengthen us for the work that thou has given us to do. Defend us with thy heavenly grace, that we may continue thine for ever and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until we come to thy everlasting Kingdom; though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
She has now come to the Kingdom. We give thanks for her, we mourn with the Royal Family in their grief, and we pray for our new King, that he, too, may have God’s help in all that lies ahead.
God Saved the Queen.
God Save the King.
God Bless You.
St Mary’s Hambleden