Sermon given at Matins in Thanksgiving for the Life of HM Queen Elizabeth II - Corinthians 15: 50
The Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, Dean of Westminster
Sunday, 11th September 2022
Suddenly the still centre shifts. Today, I am made more vulnerable. Today, we are all perhaps a little less sure. We mourn Her Late Majesty the Queen, we feel that loss and in it I think we feel other losses, old grief, for she was there in all our sorrows. She was there too when we kept company and rejoiced. She was our point of reference, our assurance that there is continuity. This is a moment when we feel the passing years, the changes good and bad. How strange that we should be startled. Our platinum sovereign, beside and before us as no other. Beside and before us longer than we dared imagine and through such dislocating changes in our culture and our world. Yet, we are surprised, our Queen smiles out at us from that last picture in Balmoral and then, so swiftly, is not here.
Queen Elizabeth was, the record shows, a ‘constant’. The New York Times has her as ‘the one constant in an inconstant world’. We hear that word so often now in the tributes paid. Our ‘constant’ sovereign. It is a good word. It is a recognition of the long years of service, of sustained duty, and of a disciplined integrity. We recognise that constancy. Fifteen Prime Ministers; a reign which began as television was new and which was then lived before a camera. The nations and the Commonwealth, our lives, our culture, so changed since her accession, we cannot fail to notice and honour the Queen’s constancy.
Constancy then, but perhaps something more. When St Paul searched for the language to express the deep mystery of death and the hope and courage with which we face that, he settled on another word. Not constant, but steadfast.
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast
To be "constant’" is to endure, to survive and to be sure. The Queen was indeed constant. It was not a performance we saw, but the character of one who lived up to the oaths she took. When so much of our life together is dominated by slogan and style it is imperative we recognise that the Queen set something quite different before us. It was herself she gave us, knowing the cost, feeling the compulsion to give of her best. For seventy years, through turbulence and change, she has sustained the values we admire, she has been the values we respect. She promised, in this Abbey, at her coronation to devote her life to principle, not power; to Law, to Justice in Mercy, and to faith. She kept her promise, she ran the race. It was sustained and it was constant.
Even so, this is something bolder, and braver than constancy. Our late Queen was steadfast. She did something more than survive and sustain. She believed and she hoped. To be steadfast is to fix mind and eye on truth and to then pursue it. It is to live out a confidence that life has meaning and life has purpose. In her Christmas broadcast in 1957, near the beginning of her reign, her late Majesty quoted Pilgrim’s Progress:
Though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at - to arrive where I am.
She celebrated recent change and insisted still that some things should not change, ideals and principles must abide. She said:
Today we need a special kind of courage, not the kind needed in battle but a kind which makes us stand up for everything that we know is right, everything that is true and honest.
Our Queen was steadfast in faith. Of course, she lived as we live in the joys and sorrows of the passing moments. She lived intensely in the present throughout her long reign, in those endless red dispatch boxes, in the audiences, in the countless handshakes and the visits and the tours, in celebration, sorrow and in difficulty. She did that visibly. Always though she believed that her service, our community and our God given capacity for goodness, generosity and grace might make all of us better than we are. She was steadfast in believing that life was not in vain, steadfast in hope and purpose. She lived in hope and faith, sure that ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord’. Revelation 11:15
Her faith was sure and her faith mattered. Faith, hope, love abide and whilst love is the greatest of these, perhaps it is hope that drives and sustains the steadfast. She was sustained too by our affection, by a faithful household, by her family and above all by the husband she married here in the Abbey, in 1947. Her liege man of life and limb was steadfast too and their common witness was remarkable to behold.
Now, hats and handbags are set carefully aside, duty is done, promises have been kept. So, the heavy mantle of majesty which, she persuaded us, was lightly borne is passed on the instant to our new King. We pray for him in his grief and sorrow. We pray for him as we hear him make that same commitment to duty, to principle and to constitutional monarchy under God.
St Paul, faced down the deep mystery of death sure in faith, sure in hope. Death would make a mockery of life, crush the constant, stamp out the steadfast. Yet Christ lives and it is faith and hope that have the victory. So Paul concludes his meditation on living and dying:
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.
In that hope, her late Majesty lived and died. She was steadfast in service, steadfast in faith and steadfast in hope. We all echo the words of our new King as we look back over a reign of more than seventy years and say "thank you".
Now we renew our own hope. Refreshed in faith, we determine to be steadfast ourselves, steadfast in our thankful remembrance, steadfast in loyalty to His Majesty and steadfast in faith.
God save the King.