Sermon for Requiem for HM the Queen: Sunday 18 September 2022
A sermon preached at a Requiem for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Jesus said, “Where I am, there shall my servant be also.” (John 12.26)
My holiday this summer began with a funeral, the funeral of an aged aunt in Derby. After the church service, we took her to the crematorium. At the Committal, my sister-in-law’s phone went off. She grappled gamely with the device, but, as the curtains closed silently in front of the coffin, a voice was heard saying: You have arrived at your destination.
What is our destination? There has to be one. We don’t just drift in here without a thought in our heads. But is all too easy for Christians, particularly in these days of uninterrupted distractions, to drift into a state of permanent inattention, forty, fifty or sixty years, just carrying on. We are like the Israelites of the Old Testament, all the time looking for a quiet settled life, and deaf to the God who chose them, as He chooses us, to be a sign of his love in this world. Actually the word I am looking for is not inattention, because we can be a very attentive lot. The word that comes to mind in these times is desolation, overall unease or sadness caused by lack of purpose or destiny. No wonder so many say that they have lost their faith. But you can’t lose your faith. Faith is a gift, the open road to God’s life, an added dimension to our life. We accept faith, we take that road or we don’t, we can’t lose faith. What many Christians have is not a crisis of faith, but a crisis of understanding, blinded by our intellects, entangled in endless questions. St Bonaventure back in the 13th century said that “The human person is endlessly asking and begging. Covetousness is never satisfied.” Even in matters of religion. Faith is not an asset we accumulate. Faith is relationship and communion, divine and human, undivided.
If I had to summarise Queen Elizabeth’s many televised addresses, her message to us is: Never give up, never despair. That applies as much to our spiritual journey, as to national crises. It’s not up to me to examine anyone’s personal faith, but it became clear to her subjects that their Queen’s Christian faith rested light on her shoulders, she was not weighed down by that egotism which is so dangerous, when we want God on our own terms; her faith centred on relationships and communion, which is why all of us came to see her as our Queen, she communicated her faith to us. Faith was God’s gift to Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Elizabeth was God’s gift to us, to the nation and the Commonwealth.
Queen Elizabeth was Valiant for Truth. She set out to do God’s will. Whose example did she try to follow? Jesus’ lifelong commitment was to the will of the Father, and nothing else. Nothing else really mattered. And this commitment leads, not to the contracts and heavy obligations which so often constrict our religious journey, but to spiritual freedom. I believe Queen Elizabeth reached that point, within the frightening constrictions of a royal life, when she experienced the spiritual freedom which comes from doing God’s will, not our own. How do we know when we are doing God’s will? God’s will is discerned by the fruits of the Spirit it brings. Peace of Soul. Joy of Heart. These are just two examples of the fruits of the Spirit, which await all of us. So what is our destination? Through the formation that comes from doing God’s will, God brings about our transformation. That is our destiny, it is the transformation of a grain of wheat which falls into the earth and dies; but if it dies it bears much fruit. This transformation takes a lifetime and more. So here’s some advice, particularly for those of us who are older – yet no wiser. Don’t rush it, trying to transform yourself. God is lord of the encounter. We cannot manipulate God. God loves us, he will not let us go. God is within us; we cannot escape his presence. In your desolate moments, have you seen yourself knocking on the gates of heaven, and not getting an answer? Surely it’s the other way round. Heaven knocks on our door. God bends low and invites us to communion. What else can the life story of Jesus Christ be about, than our destination, our transformation, our death and resurrection? And for those of you, who are younger. the peace which God wishes for you is not an absence of trouble, far from it, but the firm conviction that the Lord has truly risen for you. The surface noise of our lives, that turmoil of feelings which we all experience, can coexist with a deep peace in the soul, the action of our faith. Never give up, never despair.
Our destiny is life with God through all eternity. Our lives have an eternal significance. As Queen Elizabeth continues her journey tomorrow, let us pray for and with her, St Ignatius of Loyola prayed:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.
Fr. Julian Browning