Sermon for September 11th 2022 offered. By The Rev’d Arwen Folkes
May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen
This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.
Although I have grown up with Queen Elizabeth the Second as a constant figure in my life, it was only in the last decade that she became something more to me than a figurehead of pageantry. I remember it well. It was when I learnt of two daily routines that she kept which were the same as two of my own. The first is the rumour that she would regularly tune into The Archers at 7pm every evening, and the second was learning that she even more religiously said her morning and evening prayers. While the first isa rumour still to be confirmed, the second was a fact shared by the clergy who had the privilege of being her chaplains.
It was after learning this second fact that I began to pay far closer attention to the things she said, that I began to reflect on her example of public service and duty, and when I really came to understand how she very seriously she took and regarded her role as defender of the faith, but more than that as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Even our Monarch, the most famous woman in the world, bowed and deferred herself and her life to Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
It is striking how little mention is made of this central foundational fact. In amongst the many, rightfully bestowed adjectives being used over the last couple of days - and indeed during this past year of Jubilee celebrations, it has been something of an add-on, a ‘by the way’ rather than the central, formational foundation upon which all else was built in her life. With the exception of course, of when she herself spoke. In 2014 she shared;
“For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace … is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role-model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.” (2014)
We have been so blessed, to have had a sovereign, head of state, who not only made a promise to us all but kept it right up until her final days. When the Queen made the promise ‘to give her heart and devotion’ and declared that her ‘whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted’ to our service. I wonder if she ever imagined that she would called to uphold it for the next seventy years of her life. And yet, every day, diligently, dutifully, and often delightfully, she kept that oath to us all.
But, she herself acknowledged on multiple occasions this was not just a feat of her own willpower, it was made possible by the help of God, through her faith in Christ even in times when it was tested, tried, and turbulent.
Over these days of mourning, we, The Church of England, have particular duty and privilege. To lead our nation - across all our parishes and cathedrals, in the nations sorrow. Not just for those who are already members of this denomination, but to all - those of different faiths and those with none, a responsibility made clear when Queen Elizabeth the second addressed Lambeth Palace in 2012:
“we should remind ourselves of the significant position of the Church of England in our nation’s life. The concept of our established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, commonly under-appreciated. Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions…. [but] a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country … [creating] an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. “
Here in the Anglican parishes of this benefice, I pray that we will indeed lead our community. During this time of mourning with books of condolence, with open churches, and special services yet to be announced. But also beyond. Continuing to serve our communities inclusively, generously and lovingly; following the example of Jesus Christ
What strikes me about this present responsibility is the genuine outpouring of love and gratitude for this unifying figure God gave us for the last seventy years; a universal appeal which was richly evidenced in the service at St Paul’s on Friday evening which saw 2,000 ‘tickets’ claimed by a congregation not defined by hierarchy or status, but encompassing all ages, all ethnicities, and a wide variety of dress codes.Or the incredible fact that even the Roman Catholic Churches in England will today offer Requiem Masses for a Protestant Queen.
It is said in Scripture that the works of God will be known by their fruits, and the outpouring of love and grief which we witness and share in, sweeping across our nation is indeed heartfelt, freely given and genuine. Just as her own service was. Just as the service we are called to in Christ should also be.
I would therefore like to call you all to the further task that lies with us right now, as a Christian people.
Over the coming days, conversations with your neighbours, family, friends and associates will be largely focused on The Queen and her successor. Details, anecdotes, appreciations will be shared as is right in the way of grief … but please do take her lead in gently signposting and reminding why she was able to fulfil her role so magnificently … because of her immense Christian faith. Please don’t hesitate to remind them of their parish church right now - inviting them abundantly, warmly, and genuinely, - just as she herself did - to join us in our prayer and lament, and to enter into these, their churche to leave their tributes and respects.
Of course, Her Majesty’s own private daily prayers alone did not sustain our Sovereign Queen for seventy years, but with them the faithful prayers of the churches of which she was defender. The prayers which sustain the nation at this time and sustain the new monarch, King Charles III. What a blessing it was to hear him speak of his own faith, of the role that he takes on now as supreme governor, and his acknowledgement of God in his life. We trust that God has answered our prayers and saved the Queen, and now we will begin to pray that God will save our new King.
While I will personally miss that comforting sense of being ‘with the Queen’ when listening to The Archer’s at 7pm every evening, I am reassured by my faith that we will not be without her when we say our prayers. Because as the Gospel promises us, ‘all who see and believe in him will have eternal life’ and therefore, our prayers will be united with hers as she takes her place in the heavenly host, feasting at the eternal banquet and meeting - face to face at last - the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who she followed and bore witness to throughout her life upon this earth.
To end today, I’d like to borrow words from that other national figure, Paddington Bear, who spoke for us all at the Jubilee earlier this year.
Thank you Ma’am, (Mam)