When The Queue became a pilgrimage
“Apologies to anyone waiting on their pizza,” tweeted Domino’s Pizza on Tuesday, “we've just received an order from Holly and Phil.”
Yes, it’s been a difficult week – to say the least – for ITV’s This Morning presenters, Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. They have received a torrent of abuse for what must be the worst offence imaginable for anyone English: queue jumping. And we are not talking about any old queue; we are talking about The Queue.
It seems that the pair had been given media accreditation to cover the Queen's lying-in-state as journalists. As This Morning explained "They did not jump the queue, have VIP access or file past the Queen lying in state - but instead were there in a professional capacity as part of the world's media to report on the event."
All this is because The Queue soon assumed a special status. Its own
own weather forecast, Twitter feed, Instagram account and YouTube channel. A queue with pastors, Samaritans, video screens and psychologists analysing it. A queue that even celebrities are lining up to join. A 4.9-mile-long queue that at times came to such a standstill that there was a queue for The Queue.
As the Washington Post headlined: Is There Anything More British Than ‘The Queue’? In fact, in his essay on the English people, George Orwell remarked that any foreign observer would be struck by their orderly behaviour and in particular “the willingness to form queues.”
For myself, I hate queues. I completely identify with philosopher Julian Baggini who confesses: “Waiting is so unusual that many of us can't stand in a queue for 30 seconds without getting out our phones to check for messages or to Google something.”
But this Queue was different.
As it happened my ordained daughter was on the Faith Team, essentially one of chaplains organised from Lambeth Palace, to minister to the Queue. In fact, it snaked right through her parish along the Albert embankment. For her, a deeply moving experience.
She tells me that The Queue developed a life of its own with deep relationships being forged as Queuers trudged together along the south bank of the Thames. They spoke of belonging to their Queue family.
As you can imagine, strict rules were observed. No way could you simply join your friend or spouse, marking your place. Everyone had queued from the start.
In all his she compared it to a Pilgrimage, in that for many joining The Queue became an end in itself: they joined The Queue simply to be part of The Queue. For some, a deeply spiritual experience – something beyond definition.
As far as I can see there is no mention of a queue in the Bible, but nevertheless there is deeply moral in the act of queuing. We are talking here about justice and fairness. If there is a scarce resource or a limited opportunity, those who arrive first have priority. To jump a queue, to push in, is simply an act of utter selfishness.
Queueing means that we value everyone equally, a profoundly Biblical concept. So you can’t buy your way to the front of a queue, neither can you pull rank. Hence the outrage against Holly and Philip.
But there are certain social conventions in which some people can move through a queue, even go straight to the front. I recall one paramedic being ushered to the front of one supermarket queue during the pandemic. It wasn’t just that his time was more valuable, it was their way of saying “thank you.”
Good order as represented by queuing is paramount, especially in situations of stress when “every man for himself” can lead to a dangerous stampede In contrast, we have the Birkenhead drill in which women and children go first.
Queues are a measure of our concern for one another, of social justice. And so it comes as a shock – as it did for those first disciples – when Jesus taught “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Luke 20:16). As ever Jesus seems to be turning convention on its head, challenging our deeply-held assumptions.
In fact, this is his conclusion from his parable of the workers in the vineyard. You will remember that at the end of the day they queue to receive their wages with those who worked for ten hours at the back of the queue while those who had worked just one hour at the front.
To the anger of those who had worked all day, they are all paid the same. It didn’t seem fair. But as Jesus explained, they were paid what they were promised. “Are you envious because I am generous?’
Here Jesus is focussing on our sense of entitlement, that we think we have any claim on God’s goodness, in that somehow we deserve his grace, some of us even more than others.
Of course in everyday life, we need to queue. After all they queued in the parable. But the reality is that such is God’s love for each of us that as in The Queue riches and rank count for nothing; we simply rely on God’s unconditional love.
For the reality is that all of us are welcomed into God’s Kingdom, each of us may receive the full bounty of his grace.