How moving and emotional the past days have been as we have shared in the grief and loss of Queen Elizabeth II. Many of us have never known another British monarch or ever heard any English national anthem other than “God Save the Queen”. The outpouring of admiration, gratitude, and sadness has washed around the world like a glorious tsunami of appreciation and respect for such a long life so well lived. I have been most moved by the new Queen’s first words spoken in my hometown of Cape Town on 21st April 1947.
“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong. But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.”
As I reflect on those words and the life of service that followed I am in awe of Queen Elizabeth’s resilience, consistency, and commitment to live out every word of her pledge. Life was not always easy or without challenge and heartbreak, and yet she stayed the long course with immense dignity and grace.
I think of my own life and vows made that have been broken, and how I have offered all manner of explanations, justifications, or merely confessed being wrong, weak, or misguided. It’s against that personal backdrop of ups and downs that my admiration for the Queen rises. I’m sure most of us would have similar thoughts, confessions or regrets. And yet failing along the way of life is our shared part of the human journey. I’m sure the Queen felt a failure at times. Not everything she did was perfect in her public life, or as a wife and mother. Those around her were far from perfect or faithful either. Keeping a vow is about continuing in the same direction no matter what. Picking yourself up, learning, growing, and stepping out again and again.
The Queen understood that she could not keep her vow with any integrity without the help of others. In her first speech from Cape Town she specifically mentioned the goodwill and support of the people over whom she would rule as well as her extended family of course. And beyond the human realm she always affirmed her relationship with God in whose Son Jesus she found a role model. He lived among us a king who became human. He lived as a servant of all and a slave to none. Queen Elizabeth understood her life and work as one she never asked for but a reality that she learned to embrace. She understood her privilege in life, and more importantly, lived with the perspective that her privilege was primarily to consider others and to serve others; which is why she so often signed her correspondence, “Your Servant, Elizabeth II”. In an age of leadership pomposity, broken promises, ego, and corrupt power, her example (even with imperfection) is worth honoring and celebrating.
And now she is gone. So quickly, quietly with minimum fuss, slipping away after confirming Britain’s new Prime Minister. Her last photograph shows a frail and ailing woman supported by her walking stick and smiling. Almost a mischievous grin, a secret knowing that she was about to depart on a trip where we could not follow her, yet. To a place where another Kingdom awaited her. Where at last she could lay down her crown at the feet of the King of kings and be a daughter again, without care or responsibility. She unashamedly talked about her faith throughout her life, humbly mentioning her allegiance to God and Jesus in many speeches. Just as she paid attention to detail throughout her reign, she prepared for crossing the threshold of death over many years. Her last photograph reveals no angst or fear, rather a woman at peace, quietly assured of what awaited her even as she prepared the roles and responsibilities for those she would leave behind.
I have had the privilege and responsibility of accompanying many people to this final and inevitable threshold that marks the end of life on earth. Some go peacefully, some suddenly, some unsure and apprehensive, and some with a bravado taunting the existence of anything beyond death. The only constant in life is that everyone dies.
It was the resurrection of Jesus that broke the fear of death and proclaimed that there is so much more to life than our mortality, our ability to understand, or even our perfect vow keeping. Jesus’ death on the Cross offers forgiveness for people like me who have failed along the way. Funnily enough when I faced the Cross and received forgiveness (repeatedly), the Queen was beside me on level ground doing the same. No matter our status or position on earth, the gift is offered to all – wrapped in grace and labelled with our name and an affirmation of love from God, our Father.
I’ve also had the privilege of inviting many people of all ages to consider how they are preparing for death? Not as a morbid topic of gloom but rather as an exciting reality that extends our horizons and places our earthly life in a far larger and more meaningful perspective. Some have been interested, some indifferent, and others have embraced the revelation and gift of Jesus as making perfect sense of their present and their future. With me, and the Queen, they have relished the truth that life is not meant to be lived alone or rooted solely in our personal performance or perspective. With me, and the Queen, they have discovered that when God becomes real, and Jesus is a friend, then death is no longer a barrier but a doorway. With the aging of our bodies we discover the maturing and strengthening of our spirits. Hope and expectancy begin to blossom and grow like climbing roses around that doorway, whether nearby, or in the distance.
Everyone faces death for sure. The doorway is open and offered to all. Love conquers fear. God is kind, Jesus is a friend with a hand outstretched. We don’t have to ‘go it alone’. The Queen couldn’t, I certainly can’t, how about you?
May God bless the legacy and memory of Queen Elizabeth II, and may God bless and save her son, King Charles III.
For one last time with gratitude and thanks for the life of Queen Elizabeth II – and praise to God for the priceless gift of Jesus, the door through death to life everlasting.