At this time of national mourning, BUC News has asked two church leaders to reflect on the social context of her passing in a 21st century globalised world and biblical lessons that we can learn from this historical event. Pastor David Neal (TED Communication & Media Director), writes the first part this week and Pastor Max McKenzie-Cook (SEC Community Services & Prison Ministries Director, & Diversity Coordinator), will close this short series next week.
The Soul of a Nation (1)
At the time of writing early on Friday morning 16 September, the government 'queue tracker' estimates the wait time to view the Queen to be at least 11.5 hours, and nearly 5 miles long as it snakes across London. We are a nation in mourning and our loss is deep, demonstrated by the need of many to pay our respects in person.
Perhaps 'respect' is the key. Because in comparison to all our national and key institutions we feel that have at times failed us – banks, government, energy companies, the judiciary, the NHS, the police and even the church to name but a few, she has not. She has never let us down.
We will miss her devotion to a life of service, her compassion and personal kindness. We will miss her words of encouragement. We will miss her dignity and resilience when faced with personal, family, and national trauma. We will miss her capacity to forgive.
Take a step back for a moment, and isn't it a little strange that our deep sense of loss is for someone most of us have never met? And yet, we feel we knew her – affectionately described as the 'nation's grandmother', our comforter and friend in good times and bad. But more than that, our national living role model, living the character deep down perhaps most of us long for.
There is a God-shaped hole in us all, says Paul, whether we know it or not that longs to experience His kindness (Acts 17:27). A kindness described in his letter to Titus of the God who "saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy" (Titus 3:4). As we mourn, I can't help but wonder if that God-shaped hole is currently being stirred in our national psyche.
"God save our gracious queen" read the opening words of the national anthem during her reign. From the very first years of life, the then Princess Elizabeth was taught and caught the character of grace – to be honest, courteous, respectful, obedient, kind, and-to-serve-rather-than-be-served. Built on the foundation and teachings of Christ Himself, they are values which remain deeply embedded in our national consciousness.
Above the din of the increasingly toxic political discourse, when she spoke, we listened and were silent. Unlike the politicians and media folk quick to amplify the errors of the other, she was quick to listen and slow to speak – the very essence of her constitutional role, but all the same, a virtue advised by James in his letter on practical Christianity (James 1:19).
Her personal Christian faith was 'winsomely inclusive' says Mark Greene of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. "She pointed to Jesus and how he expanded her capacity to love people with different beliefs. Her approach was testimonial, not argumentative. She told the world the inspiration that Jesus had been in her own life and left the world to decide if they were interested in being inspired themselves." (1)
I love Greene's description of her faith – 'winsomely inclusive'. Isn't that the very essence of the grace of God, the redemptive God who stoops and cares and rescues humankind? I also cannot but warm to his description of her witness approach as 'testimonial, not argumentative'. It is an approach which seems to be the perfect fit, the biblical fit even, for sharing Christ with UK people. It is as if she understood the invitation of Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount which include the lines as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson, "Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message).
Could it be that our national mourning reveals our deepest longing, to experience the grace and kindness of God, of which Queen Elizabeth was but a reminder. Could her passing remind us to not only preach and teach grace, but to live it and be 'winsomely inclusive' to all without exception. Such grace could surely change our church, increase our witness, and change our nation for the better.