EARLIER in the summer my wife and I attended the funeral of a dear friend. He was in his nineties and during the last few years had become increasingly frail, although mentally active. He and his late wife had brought up six adopted children in a happy home. He had been a successful businessman, working in the field of finance. However the main feature of his life was that he was a Christian and deeply committed to his local Baptist church, which was the rock on which he built his life.
During his last years he regularly discussed death with his minister, but in a positive way. He longed to shake off his tired old body, and was eagerly anticipating heaven.
His funeral was happy and informal: at the request of the family no one wore black. We sang joyous hymns which had been his favourites, with the reading of familiar scriptures. Tearful homilies were given by children and grandchildren, recounting happy and humorous memories. The sermon delivered by his minister was powerful and positive, preaching the gospel by which he had lived his life. The minister emphasised that we were not there to venerate a body, but respectfully to dispose of it. Our friend no longer needed it and had been looking forward to his new heavenly body which is the hope of all Christians.
Which brings me to the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. It is well known that she too was a Christian with deep faith and commitment, and that this faith was her guiding principle as she accepted the sovereignty of God over her life.
However I have been disappointed in the way that her faith has been presented over the last week, largely in rather dull terms of duty and self-sacrifice with frequent reference to her vow made in her ‘salad days’ when she was twenty-one. These elements are, of course, part of being a Christian, but there is so much more to the Christian experience. As St Paul summarised it, ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’ (New International Version)
I watched the granite expressions on the faces of her family as they processed up the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. This was understandable since they had recently lost their beloved mother. However once in St Giles Cathedral things were little better. I know it was billed as a time for reflection, not a funeral, but the dourness continued.
The first lesson, a well-known text in the rather problematical Book of Ecclesiastes, was delivered by Scotland’s First Minister looking suitably severe and who, I understand, is not a believer. So this was protocol, not faith. I cheered up a bit when the next lesson was announced from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter eight. This particular text is one of the treasures of the Church (real treasure, not bits and baubles). However the minister read it in such a way as to suck all life and meaning out of it.
The hymns were straightforward, but it was clear that they were unfamiliar to many of the congregation. Various anthems were sung by the choir but, ‘For those who like that sort of thing,’ said Miss Brodie, ‘that is the sort of thing they like.’
As to the eulogy, the established churches never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. With millions, possibly billions, watching worldwide, what an opportunity to include a brief simple explanation of the basis of the Queen’s faith as the minister did at my friend’s funeral: that is, the gospel. What we got was largely a rehash of what the secular reporters had been saying focusing on dedication to duty etc with a reference to the wisdom of Solomon. This was a bit unfortunate since Solomon, despite all his wisdom, ended up a useless king, as any biblical scholar knows.
Of course I understand that a memorial to a revered Queen cannot be as free and informal as was my friend’s funeral, since there are many social and political issues to be considered. But in view of her genuine faith I would have hoped for a bit more joy and celebration and a little less misery.
I do not mourn the death of the Queen; I am simply glad that God took her when she was ready after a long and meaningful life. There are those who say that she hung on that long only so that she could get rid of Boris Johnson. (I expect this sentence will be edited out, but I could not resist it!)
St Paul again, as he contemplates his approaching ‘departure’ in his second letter to Timothy: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord will award me.’ (NIV)
I firmly believe that this sums up Her Majesty’s life and that she will have gained such a crown, far greater than the bits of metal and glass placed on her coffin.