A period of mourning

I just wanted to share a few further reflections on grief and mourning, particularly with reference to the death of Queen Elizabeth II.  I’m writing aware that a lot of readers are UK based and so the events of the last day or two have no doubt had a deep affect on many but I’m always aware that some readers will not classify themselves as monarchists indeed, some of my friends are staunch republicans.  Indeed, one of my most controversial articles earlier this year was when I wrote on the Jubilee. I probably managed to offend everyone equally that day either by being too  -monarchist or not monarchist enough. So much for trying to find a mid-point![1]

If you are not British or if your sympathies are primarily republican, then you may be a bit bewildered by the response. However, from what we are seeing in responses from around the world, I think people on an emotional level do get it. Whether it’s the French President, visibly moved saying “To you she was your Queen, to us she was The Queen … nous somme avec vous” or the many people who have commented that even though they never met her and in some cases considered themselves deeply un-royalist have found themselves in tears (me included).  All of these responses reflect the affection with which she was held that transcended international borders and political differences. 

So, my first point is this.  Grief is about an emotional response rather than a rational one.  Some of us tend towards the rationalistic and at times, especially within British Evangelicalism there has almost been a fear of emotions.  Yet our emotions, as much as our reason are God given.  Previous generations talked about them as “the affections” and insisted that preachers should preach to the affections not just the mind.  Well, we need to give space for those affections. That’s true for how a country responds -as I observed on Thursday night – like an extended family who have lost the matriarch. 

If the nation is an extended family that has just lost mother/Grandma then this could help us to re-learn how to mourn well.  You see, I wonder if we’ve forgotten how to deal well with death.  I’ve been thinking about that a little as there has been some discussion about the cancellation of things like football matches, concerts such as the Proms and the suspension of Parliamentary business. Some people have suggested that these things should go on and that it’s helpful to have things like music.

Now, I don’t want to make it a point of major division and I wouldn’t have been upset if the Premier League went ahead this weekend but I think that by putting in place an extended period of mourning and cancelling certain things we are sending certain messages about how we should respond to death.  Death is an interruption and rightly so. We are reminded of our mortality.  We thought that the Queen would go on forever but of course she wouldn’t.  We are reminded that we need to keep things in perspective. As much as we might love football and enjoy concerts, it is good to remember that these are not essential to life and not the most important things.  And given that these things are often exalted to national religion, it can only be a positive if instead people are being directed to gather to remember, honour and grieve in places of worship to the living God who holds the keys of life and death.

We pause things in a similar way to how fasting works. And if we are struggling with the absence of a few of our favourite things and trying to work out how we could have adapted those things to make them fit with the new priority perhaps we have there a reminder of the long human tradition to attempt to cling on to things precious to us.

Another helpful comparison is that we pause and in a sense step out of ordinary time in order to remember, to rest and return to normal time. In that respect it’s a bit like Sabbath

So we pause. Grieving families need permission to make space too. Yes there are benefits to the routine of normality but there is also something good in stopping to remember, to cry, to talk, even to laugh at happy and funny memories. 

There’s a phrase popular in contemporary parenting about children “having some big emotions.”  Well mourning is about those big emotions and that’s why it’s important to allow space for them to be expressed.  Grief will include deep sadness, the feeling of a void, numbness, shock, it may include blame, anger and regret.  As we mourn together as a nation, we can learn how to give space for those emotions when we come to private grief for the loss of loved ones.

Mourning should allow space for us to transition back to a new normality. In the national case, it allows space for us to move from having a Queen who has been there all of our lives to having a King and for that King to transition into his new role as well.  There is a whole Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  There is time between death and resurrection.

However, Sunday does come.  It’s so important that in grief we do not lose hope.  The Queen often spoke about faith in Christ. Now, as I argued previously, we are simply not in a position to look into her life and make judgements about the extent to which she did or did not grasp the Gospel.  This might caution us against trying desperately to use her for our evangelism. However, at the same time, the public profession does suggest lively faith and hope -certainly as clear as I’ve heard in many a baptismal testimony.  I was encouraged to read from the Archbishop of Canterbury that she did not fear death.

Christian grief is not devoid of real sadness. When someone goes, we miss them and when there has been suffering at the end, we feel that pain too. But Christian grief is not hopeless. Our faith should sustain us through a period of mourning knowing that we lay to rest the moral remains of our loved ones

“in sure and certain hope of the resurrection”

[1] Oddly, my views on whether we should use Elvis in evangelism proved almost if equally as controversial.

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