Bishop Paul’s Sermon given in Southwell Minster on 11th September following the death of Her Majesty the Queen
Southwell Minster Eucharist, 10am on Sunday 11th September 2022
1 Corinthians 13 and Luke 15:1-10
It has been a quite momentous and emotionally turbulent week, certainly unprecedented for most of us in our lifetime.
Last Sunday we knew that we would have a new Prime Minister and government within a few days but we did not imagine that by the following Sunday we would also have a new Sovereign, as our most beloved Queen, who for 96 years had fought the good fight and kept the faith, would finally finish the race marked out for her.
The many words of tribute and thanksgiving have unsurprisingly focused on her extraordinary sense of duty and service. But commentators have also begun to reflect more closely on the character of her life. How she lived so consistently under such close public and private scrutiny, with great kindness, care, fortitude, wisdom, and good humour. Personal anecdotes are bearing this out over and again.
Of course, we know that for Queen Elizabeth her faith in God was the core inspiration in fulfilling what she understood to be her God-given calling. Yet her faith and hope in God, through long years of costly service, meant that she also became, I believe, a most exceptionally loving monarch, in the truest biblical sense of that ancient virtue, inspired especially by the example of Jesus.
‘Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
The idea of ‘love’ has sadly become such a deflated and often gushingly weak virtue within our modern culture. It now has more to do with a flight of feelings than any steady and ongoing act of the will, especially to ‘will the good of another’, which is nearly always costly.
Jesus displayed a love that revealed the heart of God and changed the world; and by the Holy Spirit, Jesus continues inspiring people to new heights and depths of loving service.
Yet only very rarely is this seen in the life of a significant public figure. Down through the centuries there are very few Prime Minister or Presidents, Kings or Queens, no matter what greatness they achieved, who would be known principally by their love in action.
For Queen Elizabeth it was a quality that was honed through a long life of service, containing many trials and testings, yet always keeping Christ before her and beside her and behind her.
Love seems to have been a very constant theme in what those closest to the Queen have spoken about most movingly over these past few days. Indeed, I think it is significant that the King spoke of her ‘love’ in his Proclamation address yesterday, saying,
‘To all of us as a family, and to this kingdom and the wider family of nations of which it is a part, my mother gave an example of lifelong love and of selfless service.’
I wonder if this Christ-like love might be the legacy Queen Elizabeth’s reign weaves into the fabric of our national life, and perhaps even become the defining character of 21st Century Britain. How greatly it is needed as we shape a new future.
But such love cannot be disconnected from faith in God and the life of Jesus. It is not something that can be manufactured. To become part of our instinctive operating system, to use a very modern term, it requires an external source of inspiration that steadily transforms who we are on the inside, in our hearts. This is the mysterious activity of the Holy Spirit who can be neither controlled or corralled.
It begins always, every day, with knowing how dearly we are loved by God. At its very summit, 1 Corinthians 13 is the costly love with which we are loved through Christ. And the good news is that it’s not something we have to find, but a love that finds us, as our Gospel reading so powerfully displays. Which means we can relax, knowing that even when we feel lost, through Christ and by the cross we have already been found. And therefore, it is simply time to come home, and experience the abundant joy and delight that God our Father has in us.
To love deeply in terms of 1 Corinthians 13 is costly, and because Queen Elizabeth bore her duties and trials with such dignity and discretion we will never know how much it cost her. Yet she understood that for Jesus it cost everything, out of love for the world.
Over these next days of national mourning let us be loving to those around us, in biblical Christ-like terms. Not simply because we ought to because it is our duty in such a solemn time as this, but more than this, because we know how dearly we are loved and found, and forgiven by God. And that whatever challenges we face and troubles we may yet endure, there is a love that will not fail us and will endure forever.
When all is said and done these three will remain: ‘faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.’ In our hearts let us come home again to this love with which we have always been loved, and be inspired to live with a renewed sense of calling to love and serve others to the glory of God.
Let us also pray that the King and his family will be strengthened, inspired and greatly blessed to know this same love of God sustaining him and our nation in all the days to come. Amen.