After Watching a Funeral

A few days ago, as I write, I watched Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, procession, and committal, along with 5.9 billion other people.

If you’re reading this (you are) then it’s likely you watched it too. Two thirds of the world did. As an Englishman whose roots on these isles date before the Conquest—which for those reading from other parts of the world means over a thousand years—it was an inherently moving event. It could not be other.

The Queen had planned her own funeral, which meant that the clear progression of gospel truth in liturgy and song, including an exquisite choral setting of part of Romans 8 that was commissioned for the funeral, was chosen by her. I like to think of it as her last, and greatest, gift to her people. The most watched TV programme in history was a gospel presentation. This must also have been the largest single audience for the gospel and worship of Jesus known to the world (so far).

Not everyone is going to agree with my position on the monarchy, or think that sacral kingship (or magic swords) are good ways to decide who runs your country. So you may not line up with this opinion: I believe that funeral was the last act of service from “Elizabeth, our sister.”

That service is the centre of kingship is an opinion only possible after the Christian revolution. It’s deeply patterned on the ultimate sovereignty of Jesus the Christ, King of the Cosmos. The service made that clear for those with ears to hear.

It was a traditional service, which was striking for one admission. There was no eulogy. Most funerals these days place centrally the remembrances of the person who has passed beyond us into the far country. That’s what most people expect. It’s a good ritual for grief too, it will be helpful to us. But, until very recently, it would have belonged to the wake, not the funeral.

I was struck that the Queen’s funeral was, for all her earthly pomp and symbolic power, not really about her at all. Which is, I think, how it’s meant to be.

It got me thinking about what I’d like at my funeral. I’m 36, a long way off from planning these things, and I don’t really know what I’d want. Not least because I suspect much of the music that I like is ephemeral and may not stand the test of the next 40 years or more. Which should be a challenge to our songwriters in our charismatic communities to write some works of weight. But this, inspired by Her Majesty’s example, struck me: it should not be about me.

It should be about God. About Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life (John 11). I hope my life will be, it would then be meet and right for my death to be too.

Another, shallower, reflection. Twitter was very active around the funeral. It suits the medium, it is built for comment. Instagram was dead. Why? Simply because grief isn’t Instagrammable. Which should get us thinking about these platforms and their uses. If some of the most important moments and emotions in our lives—how we react to death and learn to grief, “not as those without hope,” (1 Thessalonians 4) cannot be supported by them, why do we give them so much space in our lives?

Grief isn’t tidy. Grief isn’t neat. Grief doesn’t farm for likes—and the kind that does is more performance than it is grief.

I suspect that this is true about more of our lives than we would admit. We cannot actually live on the platforms, and when life forces us to live because there are no alternatives, we leave them. Except, of course, I know that Instagram was dead because I looked. The deliberately addictive nature of platforms designed to hack our nervous systems is terrifying even in the face of the nation’s miasmic grief.

These are strange days for Britain. Our longest lived monarch, the last Queen of Christendom (perhaps), has laid her crown at the feet of the King of Kings. Something has unmoored from us. The best reflections I’ve seen to help us think through what this means for us are this from Paul Kingsnorth at Abbey of Misrule and this from Tom McTague at the Atlantic.

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