Written by Revd. Dr Sam Wells
Few of us have experienced life without Elizabeth II being our queen. She’s not only been on our banknotes and postage stamps. She’s been in our lives. As a vicar I’ve countless times heard a grieving relative say of their loved one, ‘She was always there for you.’ Well Her Majesty the Queen has been like a member of each of our families. She was always there for us. She’s symbolised and embodied every era of our changing lives and times. God has been always there for us; and so has the Queen. And now she’s gone.
If there’s one quality that we’d all recognise in the Queen, beyond duty, selflessness and dignity, it would be humility. It’s paradoxical to speak of humility when describing a person who spent her life in palaces and grandeur, but the Queen never sought status, recognition, fame or celebrity for herself; she always held her office as a gift from God, and understood her role to being a blessing to all her people, not just in the UK, but around the Commonwealth. Few people have been better known: even fewer people have been more greatly admired for their clarity of purpose and sacrifice of self.
It’s not too grand to say she modelled her life on that of Christ himself. As St Paul says, Christ did not regard his exalted status as something to be exploited, but emptied himself. The queen emptied herself into her role within the constitution, to be consulted to encourage and to warn. How many times over (nearly) 70 years have we as a nation and a world had reason to be proud and grateful for her calm head in troubled times. How few of us have ever truly known her opinions and inclinations, and what a testimony that is to her discretion and impartiality! And yet one thing we all knew, because she repeated it explicitly each Christmas: her uncomplicated, humble faith in the God of Jesus Christ, guiding her embrace of all the kinds and conditions of people over whom she reigned. Has anyone ever grown old with such dignity as her? Has anyone ever borne more faithful witness to the constancy of God?
In the words of Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, ambassador to Washington during the First World War, in his famous poem describing what it means to love your country sacrificially – but also to hope for another country – the Queen certainly has given our nation ‘entire and whole and perfect’ the service of her love. But she’s also looked to a future of which it could be said, ‘And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase. And her ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace.’
The United Kingdom is by no means united for much of the time. When the Queen began her reign the tensions between Catholic and Protestant, which had so marked the reign of several of her predecessors, were not over. Since then there have been many tensions across social and political divisions – most recently leavers and remainers. The Queen’s role has been to transcend these conflicts and be there for all her people, most especially at times of national crisis and tragedy. She has done so with studious care and devoted attention.
Here are some prayers we may wish to use.
Faithful God, in Christ you showed us humility and the setting-aside of self. In the Queen you have given us an image of that humility and service. Visit the people of this nation as we mourn her; comfort any for whom this death is especially painful; and fill us with her clarity of purpose and faithful love.
Gentle God, bless the Royal Family. Uphold them in their sorrow. Raise up in them their faith in your Son’s resurrection. Inspire in this nation a sense of solidarity and grace, that we may each honour the Queen’s qualities in our own lives of service. Turn our grief to truer living, our sadness to deeper hope, and our sorrow to richer joy.
Embracing God, in Christ you direct us on the paths to peace. Bless the Commonwealth, whose nations the Queen served and sustained. Guide its leaders that it may continue to be an instrument of peace in the world.
Eternal God, we entrust Queen Elizabeth II to your everlasting arms, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, promised by and embodied in your Son Jesus Christ.
Gracious God, in Isaiah you speak of a spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and inward strength, knowledge and godly fear. Bestow your Spirit on our new king, that he may be a minister of unity, peace and hope to all his people. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Long live our gracious king.