This was the only book the late Queen ever endorsed
In the UK the newspapers, TV and radio have been full of accounts of the late Queen’s life, wall to wall, morning to evening and on into the night. Not accounts only of her life but also a minute by minute account of where she will lie (not in the ground but in vault in a Windsor Castle), a description of the coffin (prepared 30 years ago, lead lined, English oak, not sure of the birthday of the carpenter who made it but I dare say those details are in print somewhere), the flowers in the wreath atop that coffin (grown in Balmoral – I could list them but won’t), what comes next in the ceremonial process, and on and on. And on. I feel as if I’ve had a crash course in royal protocol, history and grief. With so much coverage, with so much emotion, with so much stultifying formality, it would be very easy to get it very wrong. Today, in Edinburgh, the stuffy old, boring old, much maligned Church of Scotland, got it absolutely right.
Yes, yes, there were men in silly gold uniforms blowing trumpets, and others with great big feathers in their tam’o’shanters, and long bows (long bows!), and there were people in red flowing robes and simply loads of gold and candles and all the stuff that shouts ‘pompous! irrelevant! bonkers!’ But somehow, in spite of all that, it was touching and somehow simple. It was. Honest.
It was a service to pay tribute to the Queen, welcoming her coffin to St Giles’ Cathedral, the cathedral she knew so well, and where her body will lie in state until the journey to London. The afternoon was pretty amazing – the choir was great, the music was soaring, the organ was thunderous, the soldiers were handsome, the marching was inch perfect, the huge crowd was hushed, heads were bowed… everything, everything was done with meaning and symbolism and love. Redolent with history and significance. And it could so easily have been empty, and vain-glorious, but it wasn’t. The very best part of the day, the droplet of enchantment that lifted it above everything the best of British pageantry could ever devise, came when the Bible was read, from the familiar words of Ecclesiastes,
‘There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens’
to the words of Paul
“What shall separate us from the love of God?”
to the words of Jesus himself
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
These words will have gone out all over the world, isn’t that wonderful? They were broadcast as a witness to a life well lived in the service of the true King, the eternal King. Over and over again we heard that this woman was guided and guarded by her faith in Jesus, in everything, personal and public. Is it any wonder that she was so loved?
There are not many world leaders who live so simply, lives of such unwavering service, both to God and to their fellow men.
I heard a good sermon last week about humility. We heard that when we humble ourselves, God elevates us. He never humbles us. He is for us, not against us. But if we humble ourselves, he will lift us up. There, in that cathedral, in all the pomp and circumstance, that sermon came back to me as we paid respect to a woman who was truly humble, who accepted her place in world and all the onerous duty it involved, but always remembered that there was One unimaginably greater, and who delighted in serving Him. She humbled herself, and He has lifted her up.
It’s a habit of mine to pay particular attention to the blessing, the parting words at the end of a worship service, thinking that these last words are a sort of simple handle on the next few days to come. Sometimes they take the form of a little tiny nudge in the direction of the sermon we’ve just heard and I like that. I love to be blessed. It’s a sort of love, a blessing is, and when love comes along, I grab it. Today, in St Giles’ Cathedral, the final blessing was this:
And now go out into the world and be of good courage, render no one evil for evil but hold fast to the good, honour all of God’s children, love and serve the Lord in the power of the Spirit; and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you and all whom you love, this day, this night and even for ever more.
I’m hugging that to myself. That’s blessing and a half, that is.