The Death Of The Queen
The Queen, yes: how would I not be writing about her this month? But not just a title or a role: a person – always first a person, before her constitutional position. And not just a person, but a person with a name. She was named at birth Elizabeth.
It was perhaps far more prophetic than her parents may have imagined. The naming of children often is – sometimes quite intentionally, sometimes quite unwittingly.
The name she was given at birth encapsulated, quite remarkably, almost all that would define her in the life she subsequently lived. Elizabeth. A compound name transliterating the Greek, which itself derives from the Hebrew: ‘my God a promise’.
Her name, as I say, encapsulated well the essence of the life that she would live.
A life lived in relationship with God (it’s very personal, the name – not just ‘El’, but ‘Eli’: not just ‘God’, that is, but emphatically ‘my God’).
A life lived on the basis of a promise from God (the promise of forgiveness, renewal, resurrection, through our risen Lord Jesus Christ).
And a life lived with an unwavering commitment to God (the sworn and public promise on her part, too, of a life of enduring service – to her Saviour and to her citizens).
The name she was given would prove to be definitive of the life that she then lived.
And now, after seventy years as monarch of these lands, she’s here among us no longer. Hardly a surprise, given her age: but far more of a shock to the system than many perhaps had surmised. Her people and public surprised not so much by her death, but by how her peaceable passing would impact their hearts and emotions.
A sudden, surprising storm of emotions stirred up in the hearts of the old and the young, throughout the land – throughout, indeed, the world. A strange and sharp intensity of grief, stabbing with a myriad different pinpricks on the hearts of simply millions, as each slowly came to terms with her departure from our midst.
It was the very intensity of that grief which so surprised so many: a cocktail of potent, important emotions, swirling almost uncontrollably within so many people’s hearts – and all so intertwined that it was hard to disentangle them at all.
Deep wells of lasting gratitude. Snapshots of joy, as memories were re-awakened from (for some) a long-forgotten past. Sudden, surging waves of tearful sorrow. Dark clouds of ill-defined foreboding and of fear. A cold and hollow echo in the caverns of the heart expressive of an emptiness and void.
A cauldron of grief, erupting with volcanic force across the landscape of a nation’s heart.
It was, I think, that sheer and unforeseen intensity of grief which took so many by surprise and left them almost reeling in its aftermath – struggling to get their heads around both what they were feeling and why they were feeling as they did about the passing of a lady whom they’d (in the main) never themselves actually met.
‘What is this storm of emotion? And why does it rise in my heart?’
Good questions. Good for us all to be airing. Good for us all to ponder. Why indeed? And the answers, of course, have been understandably varied as a nation tried in one way and another to articulate a grief so very multi-faceted that all attempts to pin it down were doomed from the outset to fail.
We heard snippets of quiet reflection from an endless stream of people who were interviewed. We watched tiny, little cameos of honour and respect being played out on our TV screens as hundreds of thousands wound their way past the coffin on the catafalque – a low, extended bow before the emblems of the late Queen’s royal majesty: a final, firm salute from some: a blowing of a kiss: a crossing of themselves: a tearful, sorrowful shaking of the head. A plethora of epitaphs of grief: a single, fleeting moment each one had to solemnly express the inexpressible.
But woven altogether in a great collage of sorrowing, all these many, individual threads of heartfelt grief become somehow a tapestry on which the true significance of what’s occurred is strikingly portrayed.
“It was like losing your Granny,” said more than one, and we all understood what was meant. Because, yes, it did somehow feel just like that. But you need to tease that out a bit and ponder more precisely what it is or was about your own beloved Granny which results in such a sore and searing sense of loss when Granny’s gone.
Her readiness to listen and her understanding ear. Her always timely kindness and her reassuring words. Her wisdom born from years of life-experience, through which she’d mined the seams of timeless truth. Her comfort, born from untold times of trial she’d endured, through which she’d learned herself where comfort’s to be found. The way she’d gently wrap her arms around you and would make you feel secure. The sense she conveyed that for you she would always have time. The fact that she was simply, somehow always, always there.
Your Granny made God just that bit more real – even for those who’d sought to write God out of the script of their daily living. An unobtrusive, unpretentious, regular reminder that there is a God – a God who’s there, a God who cares, a God who’s rooting for you and who wants your very best.
It was like losing your Granny all over again.
For your Granny belonged to a different world, a different generation, whose ‘strap-line’, you knew, was always the lifestyle of service. No wonder that that one word kept recurring on everyone’s lips: for the Queen had become well-nigh synonymous with humble, faithful service – that vow she’d long since taken, that promise she’d long since made before her promising God, that she, like Him, would serve.
Little wonder, too, that ‘service’ men and women felt obliged to join the miles-long queue and, standing at the catafalque, give one last, long salute to one who’d been their chief. Not just the nation’s ‘Granny’, but the ‘General’ who’d commanded all her troops.
For they, as well as any – her troops, that is – they understood just what that whole long chain of clear command involves. You follow, obey, and honour the one above you in that integral chain of command, because you know the one above you does the same. That’s how wars are waged and battles won and wonderful victories gained. Men and women submitted and accountable.
The astonishing precision of the pageantry, the beauty of the synchronised processing of those well-drilled troops in all the varied vistas of a nation’s grief – they all alike were testament to something fundamental in just how the late Queen lived: a careful, every-step submission to the one who calls the tune.
She made herself accountable. Not to the country – that’s part of the genuine genius of a system of hereditary monarchy: the people don’t vote you in and the people can’t vote you out: you’re not at their beck and call at all, it’s to one so very much higher you must give account: so, no, not to the country, but to the Creator Himself. Submitted and accountable: that’s what made her tick.
And all the funereal pageantry, quite stunning in its excellence, measured and meticulous in every smallest detail of the music and the marching – and drummed with patient persistence and grace into the consciousness of millions as they watched – that pageantry itself was but a multi-sensual, in-your-face kaleidoscope, displaying for a watching world to see, just what the symphony of sovereign servanthood the late Queen’s reign has been. A breath-taking, vibrant portrayal of the satisfying splendour of submitted lives.
Are you starting to see the picture on that tapestry I spoke about – that tapestry comprised of all the individual threads of heartfelt grief? Those countless threads of individual grief, when woven all together, portray the three great, underpinning values of the Kingdom of the Lord. Service, submission and sacrifice.
The Queen has embodied the Kingdom. For these last long seven decades. And a nation, now so biblically illiterate, could somehow still both recognize and highly prize those never-changing values – even though they’d long since turned their back upon the Kingdom whose values they are.
Perhaps, therefore, there was as well a strange, subconscious mourning for a bigger, deeper loss: as if the late Queen’s death had somehow been a focal point, bringing into sharp relief the final, fatal passing from our nation’s life of what had been, for centuries, its heartbeat and its life: the silent, almost imperceptible erosion over many long decades of clear-cut Christian living and the Bible-based foundations of a nation’s way of life.
All the more significant, then, that it happened when it did. The nights getting longer. A chill in the air. The colours and fragrance of autumn softly heralding a changing of the seasons and the fading of the summer’s light. A bit too reminiscent of the prophet’s words: “The harvest is past, the summer has ended: and we are not saved” (Jer.8.20).
The end of a spiritual summer? The time of God’s favour now past? Perhaps it was some unarticulated sense of that impending shift in seasons which so fueled the grief of a nation. The passing of the monarch, yes, and all the rightful sorrow which inevitably that brings: but the ending of an era, too, an era which had been itself so singularly steeped in those core values of the Kingdom. The curtain coming down – and with that final curtain call, a surge of regret and wistfulness, a dread of premonition, a dark and persistent and nebulous fear that not just a Queen but the Kingdom itself, it may be, had now slipped from a nation’s embrace.
The harvest past. The summer ended. The day of salvation now gone. The opportune moment disdained.
Was the grief of a nation infused with that sense of regret and foreboding and fear? The sense that an end of a sort had now come? The fear that the end was a terrible void and the future beyond only bleak? Nothing quite so stable ever again. Nothing quite so solid and secure. A seismic event, as the commentators quickly had described it – a seismic event, fraught with huge significance, whose impact has now loosened irreparably the great foundation blocks on which our nation’s life was built.
These are surely pivotal days. What we do as a people with all that’s been occasioned by the late Queen’s death will surely now determine what the landscape of the future will be like. If the thief on the cross, even in the death throes of his wayward days, could turn at the last and find salvation in Christ, then perhaps even yet it isn’t too late for our nation to turn once again to the Lord.
But such a widespread turning can be wrought by the Lord alone, and it’s to Him we must plead with great urgency, intensity, humility – plead even yet for mercy and grace in these days of unparalleled moment.
Yours in Christ Jesus our Lord,