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There is not a person in this country who has not been affected by the death of our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth. A figure who has loomed large in our lives, a person whose image we saw every day on money and stamps, who we associate with so many memories of key events in our national life. I am struck by how fortunate we have been to have her as our Monarch these past 70 years. I heard that as a little girl, when her father ascended the throne, that she prayed fervently for a brother! I am glad that prayer was not ultimately answered and I do believe that once she was thrust into the position at the young age of 25, that she saw it as a calling from God.
When she was crowned Queen at Westminster Abbey in 1953 it was the first coronation ever filmed and broadcast – a sign of an embrace of modernity which was to continue through her reign. There was one part of the ceremony, however, that the Queen asked for the cameras not to film. This was the moment that the Archbishop of Canterbury anointed her as Queen. If you watch the coronation back now on YouTube, you will see that at that moment the camera pans to the organ for a few moments. I think that the Queen instinctively knew that this was the most important part of the ceremony – it was not the placing of the crown on her head and her being presented with the orb and sceptre – it was the anointing with holy oil. She was anointed Queen just as the great kings of the Old Testament were anointed with oil, a sign of being chosen by God for a great task. This was a profoundly holy moment. Being anointed is a sacrament, the definition of a sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace of God. We use anointing oil at baptism, at confirmation, at ordination, at a coronation and we use it in praying for the sick and dying. It is an outward sign of receiving the grace of God. At her coronation service, the Queen was anointed so as to receive the grace of God to fulfil the tremendous responsibility that was ahead of her. And she continued to rely on God’s grace for all of her life, knowing that in no way could she ever do this role in her own strength. As she famously said in a speech in 1947 “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service… But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.”
The Queen’s faith in God was to sustain her all through her life. She took her faith and her role as Head of the Church of England very seriously. I would like to highlight some of the values she demonstrated in her long life for us to seek to emulate.
First is her sense of duty. In recent years, duty has become rather unfashionable, but her dedication to her role and sense of duty never left her. Indeed she was working up until 2 days before she died, welcoming the new prime minister, Liz Truss. A sense of duty has begun to disappear from public life. Perhaps we could use the occasion of her death to bring it back. When we say we will do something, let’s follow it through, let’s be committed and reliable and steadfast, like the Queen.
Second is her compassion. I’d like to share with you a beautiful story of an encounter of a Welsh war surgeon with the Queen on his return from Aleppo, Syria.
In his memoir, War Doctor, Nott shared his experience of meeting the Queen shortly after his return from Aleppo in Syria. Nott’s own mother had recently died and on meeting “the mother of the nation”, he said all he wanted to do was “burst into tears”.
“I hoped she wouldn’t ask me another question about Aleppo,” he wrote. “I knew if she did, I would completely lose control.”
Instead of prying, the Queen instead opened a silver box full of biscuits for her beloved corgis, broke one in half, and passed it to Nott to feed to them. The pair spent the remainder of the lunch chatting about the dogs and Nott says as he was stroking them under the table “my anxiety and distress drained away”.
He added: ”‘There,’ the Queen said. ‘That’s so much better than talking, isn’t it?’.”
The Queen, having experienced much grief herself was sensitive to the needs of others and knew just what that surgeon needed, a calm, non-anxious presence, and pure kindness. That is something we can all emulate.
Thirdly the Queen was quite the evangelist. Every year she wrote her own speech that we all sat down to watch on Christmas Day and every year she would refer to her own faith in Jesus Christ. In her last speech in 2021 she said this: “It is this simplicity of the Christmas story that makes it so universally appealing: simple happenings that formed the starting point of the life of Jesus — a man whose teachings have been handed down from generation to generation, and have been the bedrock of my faith. His birth marked a new beginning. As the carol says, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight”.”
Might we each, with ease refer to the faith we have and how it gives us strength. May we not be afraid to talk about Jesus to others, just like her majesty.
Finally, I’d like to mention the Queen’s servant heart. She really grasped the nature of true Christian leadership. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. The Queen modelled her leadership on that of Jesus Christ. She often signed off her correspondence ‘Elizabeth R, your servant’. She gave her life for the life of the nation she served, right until the end and we know that she will hear those words from God, ‘well done, good and faithful servant’. May she rest in peace, and rise in glory. Amen.