A Sermon for the Service of Memorial and Thanksgiving for the late Queen Elizabeth
Christ Church, Oxford
18th September, 2022.

At the very end of our service we will hear these words.

Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word

They are taken from the Song of Simeon, in Luke’s gospel: the final words of one who has seen God’s salvation and understands and is at rest. I want to make these words my prayer in this next 24 hours.

Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word

Simeon’s words become for us this evening our final prayer for our beloved Queen Elizabeth on the eve of her funeral and through tomorrow. We offer our thanks for her remarkable life which has brought the nation and the world together in its ending.

In the lines of Simon Armitage which will be read by our faith leaders this evening:
“The country loaded its whole self into your slender hands
Hands that can rest, now, relieved of a century’s weight”.

All of the tributes and stories, memories and images help us see our debt more clearly. Already at the Silver jubilee, we gave thanks for her stability. In Philip Larkin’s words then:

In times when nothing stood
But worsened or grew strange
There was one constant good
She did not change.

That stability remained as silver turned to gold and then to diamond and then, remarkably, to platinum. Stability mingled with humility and courage and warmth and welcome and a beautiful smile in a reign which will be remembered through many generations still to come. We give thanks, we mourn her death, we grieve, we treasure our own memories and we commit Elizabeth into the hands of her maker and redeemer.

We pray this evening for the Queen’s rest from her long labours; the laying down of the burdens of the crown and of old age; the reunion with those she has loved who have gone before her; and most of all the joy of God’s eternal presence, of that rich gift of peace.

Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace

But I sense these words have another purpose also this night. We are invited to pray them for ourselves as well as to pray them for our Queen.

We are all of us shaken and disturbed by these events, such is the Queen’s symbolic significance to this nation and the world. She was our last link to the generation which endured war years. She carried our sense of national identity. We have come to the end of the great Elizabethan age.

We have been reminded of the death of those we love in her death. The tears we have shed are for the Queen and of all that we have lost. We have lost one of the measuring sticks of our own lives and that of our families. Somehow in ways we don’t yet understand all our lives have changed and all our responsibilities are sharper.

Our nation and world face immense challenges in this next decade: of disease and poverty; of climate change and environmental disaster; of division and of war. Those challenges are real to us in this city and county as they are in every place on earth.

Where will we find the strength, the integrity, the leadership, the wisdom?

This closing anthem point the way. I love Simon Armitage’s poem but I will not remember Elizabeth as a lily but as a mighty English oak: standing tall and strong across the generations. The key to this oak’s life are not in its leaves or trunk or branches but in the vast network of its roots which reach deep into the earth to streams of living water.

Our Queen drew her hidden strength from her Christian faith, from Jesus. Her strength was so great because she paid attention to her inner life. Her humility and courage came from the hidden deepest places. It is very difficult for chaotic distracted fearful, or despairing people to build a beautiful world. If we would rise to this challenge, we too must pay attention to that inner life, those deep springs, those secret places of the heart.

Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.

May each of us in the midst of all our grief discover comfort and peace from Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to fulfil our own vocation.

May Elizabeth our Queen rest in peace and rise in glory, her eyes now and always fixed on Jesus Christ her Lord and Saviour.