A Commemoration of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
The Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Right Reverend Paul Williams’ sermon on Southwell Minster Sunday 18th September 2022.
“Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.”
This is the solemn charge given by the apostle Paul at the climax of the clearest statement of hope in the resurrection of the dead anywhere in the bible.
For centuries, 1 Corinthians 15 would be read in full at every Christian funeral – now it tends to be only a part of this long chapter – which will be read tomorrow in Westminster Abbey and heard by tens of millions around the world. As we grieve the death of her Late Majesty the Queen – and of course this national mourning touches in some way many other personal griefs we bear – we grieve deeply but we are not without hope.
The apostle explains that because Christ was raised from the dead, we can be confident that death has been defeated once and for all. And so Jesus’s promise to his disciples that they would one day again be with him in his Father’s house is not something vague or fanciful – it is sure and certain.
This is the faith in which Queen Elizabeth lived and died. On numerous occasions, in public and private, she spoke movingly and personally about the comfort and strength she found in God. Not only hope for the future but inspiration to remain steadfast in the present moment, whatever trials and challenges it held; to never give up, to keep excelling in the unique work of the Lord that had been given to her. It shaped her whole view of life.
In one Christmas broadcast she said,
“For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework by which I try to lead my life” (2000).
On another occasion she said, “…the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace…is an inspiration and an anchor in my life.”
She went on to explain this was no narrow outlook: “Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect all people of whatever faith or none.”
History will not understand Queen Elizabeth’s remarkable reign and dedicated service to our nation and the Commonwealth apart from her faith – perhaps particularly her daily habit of prayer. This shaped the character of her life and the way she treated others, especially her kindness, unassuming humility, and indeed her enduringly good humour.
When you know you are loved by God, that you have been given good work to do for his glory, and you have a confident hope which nothing in this life, and no one, can take away – not even death – then there can be a settled sense of inner contentment.
You may not be able to measure the value of your life or quantify the difference you are making but you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. For we will one day see how God integrates our best endeavours into his never-ending story of the triumph of his love for the world.
It was a special mercy that the Queen spent her final days in her beloved Balmoral. It has been said it was the one place where she felt she could leave her crown at the gates and live a more ordinary life as a mother, grandmother and great grandmother. We will all perhaps have places from our past or present where we felt especially at home and at ease.
Yet the Queen also believed that in this world was our heart was never meant to be completely at home. Every now and then we catch a glimpse of a future glory – in the warm breeze on a heathery glen above Balmoral, a sunset over the rolling fields of Nottinghamshire, or the smile and kindness of a carer in a nursing home in the city or on the streets with the homeless. Heaven touching earth.
This world is not the only life we were made for. We were made for something far more than this, and in Jesus Christ risen from the dead, a doorway is opened to the possibility of a certain future beyond this present land of shifting shadows – where we will lay down every crown we have acquired and every burden we have carried, as we enter the presence of the King of kings, who laid down his very life for us. And we will share in his reign, not as subjects but as sons and daughters of the living God, with new bodies that will not grow weary or age, with hearts that will never again be broken, and with a joy deep and satisfying beyond anything we could imagine.
May the presence of God who sustained, inspired and comforted our dear Queen through her long life and reign be with you, draw you to himself and strengthen you to continue excelling in the work he has given you to do. And as we pray for the King, let us not think for a moment that the best work prepared for us might not also reach its fulfilment until we are well into our 70s or beyond. For everyone living in our city and county there are difficult times ahead, so may we see the best in each other and harness the gifts and potential of all, to rise to the challenges before us, and in prayer for our new King Charles III. May God be an inspiration and anchor for him and for us in the days to come, until the shadows lengthen, and the fever of life is over, and we are finally and forever at home with him.