Yesterday evening it was announced that Queen Elizabeth II had died aged 96. I was in the city centre when the official news came through. Even though we knew she had been increasingly frail and even though we had known through the afternoon that there were health concerns for her and her family were gathering at Balmoral, it still seemed to be a shock.
A couple of young people were arguing at the door to the coffee shop where I was waiting for a friend.
“Nah, you’re kidding. It’s not true. You’re making it up”
they were saying to each other. I showed them the announcement on the BBC. Others actually responded to the Royal Family’s Twitter Account when it shared the announcement to ask “source?”
You see, the Queen has been for so many of us a constant, stable, reassuring public presence. Through all the changes and political upheaval, the coming and going of prime ministers and governments, the shocks of terror attacks, wars and peace settlements, natural disasters and pandemics, she was there.
It was the Queen who visited Grenfell in the aftermath of the terrible fire there, It was she who spoke to the nation movingly as we entered the COVID pandemic lockdowns. She was also there at moments of celebration, not just those events like the Jubilee celebrations that focused on her reign, but at great sporting events. That’s why it was so strange that she was not able to be present at this year’s Commonwealth Games.
The Queen was a model for service with grace and humility. She was an outstanding ambassador for her country. We could depend on her for dignity. It is telling that people from other countries even outside of the UK are responding to the news today and talking about THE Queen, meaning our Queen. Her commitment to public service and hard work meant that she refused to abdicate even as she became frailer. Only two days ago she accepted the resignation of Boris Johnson and appointed Liz Truss as the new Prime Minister.
Yet, the formal tributes don’t properly capture the sense of what she meant to the country and Commonwealth. I tried to explain what she meant to us to some American friends on social media a little of what she meant to us and this is the best I could come up with:
Back in 2012, she’d agreed to take part in a similar skit at the opening of the London Olympic, meeting James Bond and then appearing to arrive in the stadium by parachute (yes there was a stunt double for the jump bit – but still). Such events demonstrated her sense of fun and enjoyment. Paddington’s interaction with her represented how we had taken her to our hearts.
She wasn’t just a head of state. If the nation is like a big, complicated, extended family, then she was our mum/grandmother/great grandmother. Strange isn’t it that in this public media age, we felt that we knew her, we felt an affinity.
That probably came across most of all at Christmas when she gave her annual broadcast. She increasingly boldly spoke in those broadcasts about faith in Christ. Most memorably on one occasion she spoke about how we need saving from ourselves and how God didn’t send a philosopher or politician into the world but a saviour. It was a great delight and encouragement to hear her talk about Jesus like this.
So, there is genuine grief tonight. Some of us may even have surprised ourselves as we have shed a few tears. Even staunch republicans! And I want to say a little now about grief.
This afternoon, as the newsfeed showed members of the family arriving in Aberdeen, my own memory went back to a sombre day back in 2009. My grandma was in hospital having had a severe fall. Her children were already with her at her bedside. An early morning mobile call made it clear things weren’t looking good and so the grandchildren started heading up from wherever we were. I remember a long, sad journey up to Scotland. Nanna was into her 90s, she had lived a long, full life, we had the hope that she had entrusted her life to Christ and yet it was still painful. We knew that Grandma was dying and death is painful, death has a sting. Grief is a real and right response to suffering and death at whatever point it comes. There is a parting, there are saying goodbyes. We will miss her.
But, I want to come back to that point about a loved one who entrusted their life to Christ. Believers in Jesus do not mourn as those without hope. There is the sure and certain hope of the resurrection.
Christian funerals begin with what we refer to as “Words of Comfort” These include
“My peace I give to you. My peace I leave with you.”
“3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God”
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.’
The Eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms
And to our Queen, we’d join with Paddington and say
“Thank you, Ma’am for everything”
 Sir John Major made this point in an interview with the BBC.