In a Moment of Public Grief

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second died last week.

Of course, that isn’t true. Not to you at least as you read. It is true as I type these words, though not as I edit them. My commitment to cold takes generally means I write little about current affairs and is salutary in that controversies are long forgotten before I would post what I wrote and the rare few that remain are generally worth speaking to.

My rule is for the benefit of my own heart—I suspect it would be easier to be read if I wrote about whatever exercised the discourse in a given week, so I avoid it. It’s a terrible strategy for platform-building, but I think it remains good for me.

You could overread it. I don’t think everyone should do this, Christian commentary on current affairs is worthwhile. Though, often we can be slower to speak than we are and say more valuable things for that patience. I certainly don’t think Pastors should do this with their church, and I don’t with the church or people I pastor—but the wild west of the internet is not our flock.

So, this may be strange to read in early November but cast your mind back to the death of Her Majesty and the accession of His Majesty Charles the Third to the throne of these islands. I have readers from all around the world who will have a variety of responses to the British Monarchy. I am a subject of the King which of course colours my perspective, though I hope it does not offend if you think differently. Here are a few reflections on what we learned from those days.

Public Mourning is Healthy

The television has shown little else over the last week. Today is day seven, the funeral is still ahead of us. I wrote after Prince Philip’s death how poorly we seemed to do at mourning.

I think we are doing better here. The reporting is not celebrating the Queen’s life, primarily, we are mourning her death. We watch her coffin be transported across the country. About fifteen minutes ago the livestream of her lying in state started. I can watch streams of people mourning, in silence, some bowing to the coffin.

Even if you dislike the deference shown to a hereditary monarch due to some sort of impish republican tendency, it is good for us to see mourning. Some of the commentary is mawkish, but even then I fear I am imposing my taste on other peoples grief. All the Paddington stuff is a little juvenile, I might judge, and yet the sentimentalising is itself better than the dreary ‘celebrations of lives’ that many funerals are turned into.

It is good for us to mourn, and its good to do it together. It helps us to grieve.

Miasmic Grief

I’ve learned two things about grief in the last few days. Firstly, its memetic. You can catch it. It hangs over this sceptred isle like a fog. So many people report depths of feeling that they had not expected on hearing of Her Majesty’s death. Grief is catching. That’s not a bad thing, but its helpful for us to understand our emotions.

Secondly, grief pricks grief. Many, myself included, are finding that their sadness is not primarily about the death of our liege lord. Instead, we are sad about the griefs that adorned us already, but the miasma of grief brings out those griefs in fresh ways. Again, that’s simply how emotion works. When faced with death we reflect on the death of others.

Christendom’s Death

Why has it pricked us so, the death of Queen Elizabeth II? There is that constancy to her presence that has gone, like we’re unmoored, as has been much reported on.

I think what we’re feeling is a reflection on a deeper reality. The Vatican judged Her Majesty to be the last Christian sovereign in the world. Her own deeply held faith in Christ is not in question, but something of an aging era has ended.

Something spiritual has shifted in the country as a result. We don’t know what the next era will bring. It could be a glorious Caroline renaissance of faith in Christ in public life—but I don’t really expect it to be. This dislocation, this sense of living between times, feels strange to us. Some of our grief is actually our attempting to emotionally grapple with this suddenly tilting world.

Of course, that in itself is good for us, because the Bible tells us that living in the Between is how Christians live: one foot in the eternal kingdom.

Public Christianity

For all my oracles of the end of Britain as a Christian nation—by which I mean a nation whose head of state is a public Christian rather than anything that cuts deeper—I’ve seen more theology on the television in the last week than in the rest of my life.

The Queen’s faith is openly discussed as her driving force, multiple church services have been shown in prime time—for all my differences with the Church of England the liturgy for these occasions is beautiful—and this afternoon in clips from her speeches the Queen shared the gospel with the nation clearly.

I notice two things: firstly, as a nation we need religion in our times of deep crisis. Charismatic churches like mine would do well to devote some thought to how we can be this for people.

Secondly it shows a vision of who we could be as a nation by contrast with the drab modernity we usually experience. I hope this will inspire churches to build the things that we will need when the country comes to its senses and returns to the Lord, even if that is generations away then investing in institutions now will position our grandchildren well.

God save the King

Finally, if you’ll forgive me a typically British comment: monarchy is the Biblical form of government. I’m sure plenty of readers, some of them British, will bristle at the idea. I wouldn’t fight too hard for it, but the case is easier to build than the one for democracy let alone for a republican democracy.

Some of the protests around the King’s accession (which sadly have been put down with authoritarian force that was entirely unnecessary) centre on the idea that no one elected him. Of course, the monarchist viewpoint is that God did. The Christian viewpoint is that that’s true of all of our leaders, whether ‘elected’ by public vote or not. I don’t want to preach an apathy to politics because God chooses, and I certainly don’t want to assume that a leader being God’s choice means that the Lord’s intention was to bless us with them, but we should remember that wherever we live. He appoints princes.

The King of Kings

There’s been a quote doing the rounds about Queen Elizabeth wishing with much emotion that the Lord Jesus would return so she could lay her crown at his feet. Unfortunately, its falsely attributed and was actually said by Queen Victoria, the sentiment is appealing though.

What we know is this: we do not all enter the world equal. We do exit it equally. Queen Elizabeth II is no longer a monarch. Her crown is at the feet of the King of Kings. Yours and mine will be too one day. Then in the age to come, where the first will be last and the last first, I suspect she will not be given to rule as some of us will. Honestly, I would imagine she would be quite happy about that.

Photo by Samuel Regan-Asante on Unsplash

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