Our servant Queen
By any reckoning, a truly remarkable person.
Of course, we all saw it coming. We knew that the age of 96 the end of the reign of our Queen was coming to an end: but nevertheless, a profound shock when it happened yesterday afternoon.
Strangely for me, the most poignant quote was from our recently-ejected Prime Minister: “there is an ache at the passing of our queen, a deep and personal sense of loss — far more intense, perhaps, than we expected.”
Indeed Boris may be a great communicator but sadly he demonstrated only too clearly the importance of leaders having an integrity, a servant heart - which her Majesty had in abundance.
Amazingly – and this is truly amazing – in all her 70 years as Queen not once did she lose her cool in public. She may have been kept waiting for 14 minutes by President Putin and even longer by the King of Morocco, in the north African heat I recall. She may have been lined up to host Nicolae Ceaușescu, Romania’s corrupt president soon to be deposed. But she was unfailingly courteous and poised.
Nicholas Witchell, the BBC’s Royal Correspondent, identified what was for him her Majesty’s key quality, not so much her sense of duty but her humility. He observed: “The crown never went to her head.” The reason, I’m sure, is that she understood that this was her particular calling from God, to whom she was responsible.
Clearly this personal faith in God has been the wellspring which enabled her to serve us so unflaggingly. Her reliance on the Holy Spirit has been her inspiration.
I recall the front pages of two very different newspapers: the Church Times and the Daily Mirror, which showed her personal commitment to Christ in particular ways.
The first from the Church Times, in around 1984, showed a photo of the Queen, relaxed, standing alongside the US evangelist Billy Graham outside Sandringham church.
Billy Graham, for some Christians a controversial figure with his unequivocal and uncompromising call to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, recalled: “Her official position has prevented her from openly endorsing our Crusade meetings. But by welcoming us and having me preach on several occasions to the royal family at Windsor and Sandringham, she has gone out of her way to be quietly supportive of our mission.”
Then last October the Daily Mirror published a stark front page with the banner headline: QUEEN MISSES CHURCH. I thought at the time what a tribute to her Majesty that the fact of her not going to church made the frontpage, such was her commitment not just to Christ but to his church. Clearly going to church was to her not just a duty which went with the job but a definite commitment to God. For her, #1 priority.
The paper quotes royal author Angela Levin: “Going to church on a Sunday sounds just a small event but it is a very big thing for the Queen and for any woman of her age. She is very religious and it is very important personally for her to go to church every Sunday.”
That’s one lesson she can share with all disciples of Christ, many of whom consider church attendance, even church membership an optional extra, simply a matter of personal convenience when our busy schedule allows.
And yet at the same time her Majesty was invariably welcoming and warm-hearted to members of our faiths. Her clear commitment to Christ, made increasingly evident over the years in her Christmas broadcasts, did not preclude her affirming members of other faiths. Here she showed a generosity of spirit, a clear rebuke to any sense of sectarianism.
So it’s going to be strange for a while, not least when we next sing the National Anthem. The Queen has been part and parcel of our lives for as long as I can remember, popping up in the strangest of places.
I recall standing at an ATM in Jasper waiting for my Canadian dollars to appear and suddenly there is the Queen on the twenty-dollar note. “What are you doing here, your Majesty?” Of course, that’s what happens when you are Queen of Canada.
And soon we will be seeing images of King Charles on our currency and stamps. It will all feel very strange, unsettling even as QE2 on our ships and buildings becomes KCIII (or KC3).
King Uzziah was one of Judah’s greatest kings, reigning for a remarkable 52 years. His reign marked the height of his nation’s power. He fought successfully against other nations and exacted tribute from the Ammonites. Above all he was faithful to God and "did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord" (2 Kings 15:3)
His death in 740/739BC would have been altogether unsettling for the entire nation, making Judah particularly vulnerable. Isaiah was in some way involved in his nation’s leadership, possibly even of royal stock himself. He was worried, and goes to the temple where God dwells with his people.
So he recalls: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1) He could see that Judah’s security lay not in its king but in its King, Yahweh – the Lord God of Israel.
There, in an uncertain world, we may all find our security, as did our Queen.
The title of the excellent booklet the Bible society published to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday says it all: “The Servant Queen and the King she serves.”