11 Sep A Sermon during the time of national mourning for Queen Elizabeth II
11th September, 2022
Readings: Isaiah 43:1-3a, 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:4, John 5:19-25
Like many people over these last few days I have been looking at pictures of Queen Elizabeth taken over the decades. She must have been one of the most photographed people in the world, and I was particularly struck by a photo of her when she was a very young Princess Elizabeth riding in a carriage with her grandparents King George V and Queen Mary. It is an image from a different era and it reminded me just how much time she has spanned across different ages. She has been a constant presence and symbol as the years and decades have past, transcending the various fashions that have ebbed and flowed.
It seems that right from the beginning of her reign her preferred method in occupying the role of Sovereign was just to get on with it, and that behind the pomp and the ceremony of the role was someone who didn’t really like fuss or unnecessary drama, but preferred simply to get on with the job in hand. Both her and the Duke of Edinburgh seemed focused to carry out their roles in a no nonsense style of leadership.
The death of Queen Elizabeth marks a major point in life because she has been a fixed marker for generations; the vast majority of us never met her or even heard many words from her, but we have known who she was and what she stood for, implicitly understanding her sense of duty and quiet dignity, the importance to her of tradition and service.
There have been so many events during her reign, both celebrations and struggles, joys and suffering, but this day September 11th, is the anniversary of one of the most painful, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in the United States. The Queen made a very simple but profound gesture on the day following that attack when she decreed that at the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace the national anthem of the United States should be played as a symbol of support and empathy for the people of the US. She later said in the aftermath of that tragedy that ‘grief is the price we pay for love.’ Those simple words reminded us of the true nature and depths of love, through the reality of grief which she knew, perhaps particularly through the death of her father, King George VI.
In this present time of national mourning death again takes a role which it is not usually given. It has been said many times that contemporary Western society struggles to respond to the reality of death. Normally the response seems to be an intense effort to somehow evade it by any means possible, but with the death of such a prominent person the nature and the fact of death cannot be avoided.
In his Rule St Benedict encourages his community to ‘keep death daily before your eyes’ and so he encourages all who are inspired by the Benedictine way to keep regular reflection of death as a practice. We should remember that his advice comes within chapter 4 which is entitled ‘Tools for Good Works’. The remembrance of death then for Benedict is not a morbid exercise of despair or an excuse for escapist fantasy, instead it simply roots us in the true nature of who we are, and out of that reality we are inspired, we could say almost compelled, to respond in the present moment with acts of love and goodness.
St Paul touches on the same theme in our second lesson that we heard this morning, when he writes to the church in Corinth, ‘For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.’
The ability to acknowledge maturely and wisely the reality of death frees us from those fears which bind us and releases us now into the life which Christ promises us. However difficult and painful it may be, death offers us the insight that we cannot truly live so long as we remain trapped amidst the illusions and deceits of possessions or greed or the abuse of power. Benedict’s invitation to a daily remembrance of death is in fact an encouragement to meet with confidence the truth of who we are and to know deeply Christ’s resurrection life.
In these coming days as we continue in this time of national mourning may God lead, sustain, and comfort us. May we seek to listen and receive the insights that grief and death give us. May we dare to look more closely at the face of death in order that we may know more fully the gift of life in Christ. Amen.