Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 1926-2022
A Sermon preached by Very Revd Nicholas Papadopulos, Dean of Salisbury.
Sunday 11 September 2022, Holy Communion.
“I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me”
There was no advertisement, no application form, and no interview. There was no possibility of promotion, no date for retirement, and no annual appraisal. There was no assessment of her suitability for the job before she took it on. Her only qualifications for it were the accident of her birth and the unexpected decision of her uncle. That accident and that decision mapped out her future and left little space for her choice. That fact alone made it – in spite of its undoubted privileges – an unenviable life. For most, the freedom to discern the gifts given, to listen to the heart’s promptings, and to choose the path which best employs the former and best realizes the latter, is the freedom desired above all others.
That freedom was denied her. Yet she interpreted it not as denial but as duty. For more than seventy years she was constant, steadfast, and unflinching in what her duty demanded of her. In times of political crisis; in times of economic collapse; in times of imperial withdrawal; in times of family strife; under unrelenting media scrutiny; under terrorist attack; under intense societal pressure; in the face of cynicism, scepticism, and voyeuristic fascination she remained constant, steadfast, and unflinching in what the life she had not chosen required of her.
She consoled her people; she encouraged her people; she celebrated her people. But it was always more than processions and fanfares; it was always more than speeches and handshakes; it was always more than parades and jubilees. Ultimately it was that she was: day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, decade by decade. She simply was. She was the self-forgetting, self-abnegating, self-effacing keystone in the architecture of a nation and of a family of nations. Perhaps there is something to learn herein, something about the true nature of Christian vocation. She did not her own will but what she believed was the will of God, in whose name she was anointed.
For God, God made known in Jesus, was her unfailing inspiration. Christmas after Christmas she spoke simply and irresistibly of the strength she drew from Christ’s life, his teaching, and his example. Bishops, priests, and deacons have their place, but Christian faith has had no more compelling advocate in our country in our lifetime. Her espousal of it was utterly authentic. Perhaps it was her faith that gave her the confidence to say, as we went into that first, unprecedented, lockdown, with panic and fear all around, “We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again”. She said what no one else said; she said what no one else could say; and she said it better.
So, we grieve. We grieve because the ground beneath our feet has trembled. The overwhelming majority of us have known no England other than the England in which she reigned. On any analysis, the landscape is bleak, and now it is infinitely bleaker than it was just three days ago. Her living requires us to examine afresh our living, and her dying requires us to examine afresh our dying. She accepted with grace what she had been given by God; with steadfast determination she put it to work in the service of others. “…Not my own will, but the will of him who sent me”. Such is the pattern she has set, and if these days are anxious then it is in part because we can no longer expect her to set it for us.
But, friends, we cannot linger in sorrow, trembling, and fear, for there is a task before us. A sacred task. It is to pray for her. It is to thank God for the gift of her, and for all we have seen of him in her. It is to commend her to God, and to own better the faith which now claims for her glory beyond all measure. It is to welcome her heir. And it is – with him – to seek not our will but the will of the one in whom all creation, all creation, lives, and moves, and has its being.
May she rest in peace, and may God save the King. Amen.
Dean of Salisbury