I have written before about what I might do if I found myself preaching on the Sunday after our Queen died. Well that is where I found myself last Sunday.
I was due to preach at King’s Church in Lewes. Because of the date, 11th September (9/11) I had chosen Psalm 46 as my text a few months ago. The theme of the sermon was finding certainty in world where the foundations are shaken. As it happens it could not have been a better text.
Things that the preacher needs to remember:
The feeling that Britain never will be the same again
“In a country … that has in its recent history lost touch with its history and traditions, the Queen is a last point of continuity. Public trust has drained away from politicians and priests, from the army and the police force. A coherent national story is no longer told in British schools, and Christianity has faded from national life to a faint echo, diffused by a riot of beliefs that challenge and compete with it, but are unable to take its place.”
(The Critic Sebastian Milbook)
In the same article there was the interesting reflection by the author Louise Perry:
“I have a feeling, a superstitious feeling, that the life of our Queen, so devoted to service, so pleasing before God, so strangely intense and quiet, somehow shields our country from evil.”
There is possibly a measure of superstition about this comment, but all we know from reading the Old Testament story suggests that kings who prayed saw their nation blessed, but those who did not pray suffered loss.
The value of tapping into the national conversation about the Queen’s faith.
The Queen was not afraid to talk about her Christian faith. As recently 3 August 2022, the Queen testified:
“Throughout my life the message and teachings of Christ have been my guide and hope.”
I was moved to hear the French President Emmanuel Macron’s moving tribute to the Queen. Speaking in English his said that the Queen gave us “a sense of the eternal.”
It reminded me of the words of Ecclesiastes 3:11 that tell us that:
“God has set eternity in the hearts of men.”
However far humanity drifts from God, however faint the echo, there are glimpses and whispers of divinity that we detect in everyday moments and significant people and events: a beautiful meal, a glorious sunrise, the birth of a child or the death of someone who matters to us.
Tim Farron, a former leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, picked up those connections in the House of Commons last week, saying that the Queen was able to be such a constant in our society because she found her constancy in her King: Jesus.
Preachers also need to be aware that not everyone shares this worldview. There was a fascinating letter to the Times last Saturday from a married couple in their 90’s. They recalled the Queen’s coronation and suggested that as atheists such an event in national life should not be smothered with religious mumbo-jumbo.
To preach effectively at such moments we need to inhabit both the worlds of Scripture and the contemporary moment.
I went out early last Friday morning to buy a handful of papers. Later in the day I read them all cover to cover. I listened to the radio and watched the TV. I was looking out for the mood and language that captured this unique moment in our national life.
While I did this, I was wrestling with the text of Psalm 46, that begins with the words, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble.”
This psalm wonderfully reminds us that when everything is shaken there remains a personal reality that reassures us by giving us a safe place, rescues us at our point of desperation and refreshes us with the river of joy-filled life.
J. John sums it up well in an article in the Inspire Magazine:
“Our world is shaken but our God stands firm. Queens and kings pass away; the eternal God does not.”