Bishop Paul led a tribute to the Queen at St. Cuthbert's Commemoration Service in Darlington on 15 September 2022. You can read it below.
Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, ‘The Queen’ was a woman who knew that she had a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It was in this faith that she responded to God’s call on her life to be the sovereign of our, and many other nations and territories. It was in this faith in Jesus Christ that she found the strength to live out her life of service, duty and commitment to her family, the nation and the Commonwealth. As she put it herself, ‘For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace …. Is an inspiration and an anchor in my life.’ (Christmas 2014)
As individually and together we mourn her passing from us we pray for King Charles and the whole Royal Family in their personal grief and their new responsibilities. But we grieve with a deep gratitude for a life well lived, a service bountifully given, and a confidence that she is now in the presence of the living God whom she loved.
I offer 4 images that I hope help reflect on Her Late Majesty’s life and give us an example for our own lives.
The first image is that of a Clay Jar. St Paul wrote, ‘we have this treasure in jars of clay’.
The clay jar speaks of fragility and of humility. The last official picture that we have of the late Queen is of her at work, inviting Liz Truss to form a Government and be her 15th Prime Minister. In that photo she is bowed over, using a stick and has clear ‘blackening’ hands. She is a frail old lady – but still with a radiant smile and determined will. She always understood human fragility. She had experienced it during World War II and came to the throne early because of it. This awareness of fragility helped her remain aware of the need for humility, especially before God her Maker. Hence her reliance on prayer. For she knew that she had a treasure beyond measure within her; she had the risen life of Christ, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Here she offers us all an example. We are all clay jars that need to live life aware of our fragility, and live humbly before our Maker. We too are offered the treasure of God’s life in Jesus Christ that lasts for eternity.
Treasure points us to a Jewel. The late Queen liked her jewellery. The jewel in the Crown that lies on her coffin at present displays light.
Jewels not only speak of treasure they are symbols of longevity, of toughness and of beauty. Her Late Majesty came to the throne when rationing was still in place and the recovery from a long World war still happening. She handled the movement from Empire to the freedom of nations and the creation of the Commonwealth with wisdom. She saw enormous changes to how our nation, indeed world, functions and deep changes in social attitudes. To reign through all of this and adapt appropriately required toughness. Not a toughness that was harsh but one marked by offering stability, kindness and holding a long view. She experienced a number of significant difficult times with the family. She showed a willingness to learn how to handle these personally, and in the changing public gaze that became ever more intrusive.
We learn from her the value of stability, with the wisdom of adaptability. She knew God’s constancy so was able to express it herself. God’s constancy is also for us.
Through all of this many facetted life of the monarch she kept shedding light and colour into our world. She was a jewel.
Part of her displaying colours into the world was the way in which her fashion always brought colour. I am sure she tired of the critiquing that took place but she always brightened up an event, and chose her colours carefully.
But my third image is not clothing, it is Flowers. The Queen loved her gardens. She loved the wild beauty of the Scottish hills filled with heather and gorse. She loved the thousands of flower posies and bouquets with which she was presented, especially those from children. Her favourite flower was Lily of the Valley. Simon Armitage has captured this beautifully in his acrostic poem, Floral Tribute,
‘Lily of the valley, a namesake almost, a favourite flower
Interlaced with your famous bouquets, the restrained
Zeal and forceful grace of its lanterns, each infloresence
A silent bell disguising a singular voice.’
Yet for all their beauty she also knew that flowers are short lived; another symbol of frailty. An amazing combination of God the Creator speaking to us. As Jesus put it, Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious .. but seek first the kingdom of God.’
Her late Majesty knew the beauty, and the fragility. She also knew that her calling was first to seek God’s kingdom. Our call is exactly the same.
My final image is the Cross. As I had the honour of standing with others in Westminster Hall yesterday afternoon receiving Her Late Majesty’s coffin the ritual act that moved me most was the solemn placing of the Cross at the foot of the coffin. The Cross, the centre of Her Majesty’s faith in Jesus Christ. The Cross, her conviction that death has been defeated and that eternal life is offered to us all in Christ. The Cross, her hope, and ours.
The Queen’s life, treasure in a clay jar; a jewel in the crown; a beautiful flower all with the Cross of Jesus Christ at its heart.
As Simon Armitage puts it, ‘A promise made and kept for life – that was your gift’. Her life was a gift, all made possible because of her trust in Jesus Christ as her King.