On Sunday 18 September 2022, at a Service in Commemoration of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, held at Great St Mary’s Cambridge, The Bishop of Huntingdon, The Rt Revd Dr Dagmar Winter gave the following sermon.
Pictures from the Service can also been seen on the Cambridge News website here.
Faithful Creator, whose mercy never fails:
by your Spirit, deepen our faithfulness to you and to your living Word,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
We mourn a remarkable woman, we give thanks for a faithful sovereign, we commend a devoted Christian.
Indeed “we”. It’s good to see so many of you here and so many of you representing our region, city and university.
We. A royal we. A we created by a royal person with a deep sense of vocation. It is a vocation that began with birth, albeit dormant, and ended with her death. Very simple. She was neither elected Queen nor was the position bought or fought for or earned by passing an exam. Vocation is profoundly about being, not doing or achieving. And the way the Church gives expression to this is through anointing. A gift of God. Grace, not merit. Creating the place, the space, for a fallible human being to inhabit their lives with meaning and purpose. And royal anointing meant for the late Queen to inhabit that space for nation and commonwealth where she could offer representation, constancy and stability, support and focus, an identity for a people, an identity that both holds and transcends our diversity. This she saw as her duty and service.
And thus gifting us that royal we which we are seeing these days so powerfully in the quintessentially British long queues.
"… and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages …"
This passage from our reading from the Book of Revelation reminds me of one of the Queen’s passions: the Commonwealth. While its origins clearly lie in the colonial past of the British empire, it is now a voluntary association of 54 independent countries, countries of huge diversity in outlook, culture, ethnicity and language, and today any country can join, in fact, some countries leave and re-join, two joined only earlier this year. In her 1953 Christmas broadcast, the Queen said: "To that new conception of an equal partnership of nations and races I shall give my heart and soul every day of my life".
It has been observed that “A key aspect of the Queen’s interpretation and performance of her role as head of the Commonwealth was her understanding of the fact that this was irrevocably a multiracial and multinational association. Ahead of the curve, unlike many of her ministers and indeed her British subjects, she discerned the need to avoid ‘old’ ideas of imperial loyalty or Anglo-Saxon superiority and instead to embrace new members.” [From History Extra, accessed 17/09/2022]
During her lifetime, the late Queen had a keen sense of history. Well, she was living history! Or should that be herstory. Having a Queen rather than a King for the last seven decades has certainly been a powerful image for us women.
Part of the collective sense of grief and feeling unsettled by her death in the turmoil of this world is the result of finding that a page of history has turned that can never be turned back. There speaks the finality of death for which we can never quite prepare, even when we know it is inevitable. And of course her death has also awakened slumbering personal grief among many of us. So let us take care of one another in this.
Our Late Sovereign Lady knew that her-story was part of an even bigger, all-encompassing story, the story of God’s love with all of humanity that will not be defeated by death, that knows that love is stronger.
The Christian story is one of love, hope and resurrection and it is into this story that we commend, that we entrust our late Queen.
The Christian story of death is one of remembering the life of Jesus who loved us even unto death and lit a flame that will never go out.
Therein lies the Christian hope which guided our late Queen and which may inspire us, too. Hope not as a comforting thought to get us through a bad patch but hope to lead and guide us, so that we live now ready and in tune for what we hope for from God and God's kingdom.
The patriotic hymn “I vow to thee, my country” has an important second verse:
And there’s another country …
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase
And her ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace.
In her Christmas broadcasts, Queen Elizabeth II became increasingly more open about her Christian faith commitment. It was precisely that Christian commitment which served to strengthen her openness to people of all faiths and none, firmly believing in the need and potential of addressing together our common global challenges – war, climate change, poverty – addressing them together, thus co-operating for the common good. It is so fitting that we should have among us [this evening] leaders both of different Christian denominations and of other faiths, and I thank you for being here.
Towards the end of this service, there is an act of commitment to that other country. And I would like to suggest to you that we truly commemorate and honour our late Queen well by pledging our support to uphold and live virtues of dedication, devotion and duty, of service and sacrifice for our communities and our world, seeking justice and peace: across our communities and across this world and with this earth. That is living hope.
Please pray for our King, His Majesty Charles III, for his service to this country and much further afield.
And here is the vision, expressed In the words of our reading and our anthem, taken from the Book of Revelation, a piece of early Christian literature which has its origins in a brutally persecuted and traumatized community – here is the vision:
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
… And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
Calling this service a commemoration is an exquisite summary of what our late Queen was about: We commemorate means we do it all together, like cooperate. And: to commemorate means we are relating to her, if you think of remembering, even we become members of what she was about.
Yes, commemorating Her Late Majesty makes us a “royal we”, and together with her we are God’s beloved children who can entrust our lives through death to life in the risen Christ.
We thank God for enabling us to join Paddington Bear in saying from the bottom of our hearts “Thank you for everything”.