The sermon delivered by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at our Queen’s state funeral was potentially heard by 4 billion people. It has been the talk that people have kept talking about.
I have been interested to see that it has attracted praise from every wing of the church.
What made it an effective sermon and what can we learn about preaching from it?
It is a good example of how to preach a sermon on a special occasion.
When people are gathered at a baptism, wedding or funeral the preacher has the benefit of a captive audience, but also one that might not necessarily be entirely onside. Sometimes when preaching at weddings and funerals I have felt rather like a football team playing away.
Such sermons require the preacher to dig deep as they seek to build on connections with the hearers and make the most of the opportunity.
Justin Welby had a great opportunity. Even most republicans agreed that there was something special about the Queen. The introduction to the sermon effectively used the remarkable service of the Queen to remind his hearers that it is such a pattern of life that endures in the memory.
The next move in the sermon was to show that the vital foundation for this dedicated life of service was her faith in the Lord Jesus. This part of the sermon was a wonderful example of keeping the main thing the main thing. A funeral sermon, even if it is for the most famous woman in the world, must remember that that what made Elizabeth II special was not that she was Queen but that she followed the true King.
I think it was in this brilliant section that the potential weak link of the sermon can be found.
Welby said, “I know His majesty shares the same faith and hope in Jesus Christ as his mother …” My reflection on this is that although I pray that this is the case, so far I have not seen sufficient evidence of it (although the archbishop probably has a better handle on that than me). The new King has learned his lines on the Christian faith but at this stage I am not convinced that they have moved from head to heart.
What I appreciated about the conclusion of the sermon was the way that the archbishop opened gentle pathways for the hearers to explore and enter the reality of Christian hope.
I think that the linking of the Queen’s abundant life with the abundant life that flows from the resurrection of Jesus was brilliantly done.
‘We will all face the merciful judgement of God. We can all share the Queen’s hope which in life and death inspired servant leadership. Service in life, hope in death. All who follow the Queen’s example, and inspiration of trust in God, can with her say: “We will meet again.”’
This is a good example of what the author Tim Hawkins says about a sermon’s conclusion:
“Don’t stop. Finish!”
Join me in praying that this much talked about sermon will lead many wanderers home.
God save the King!