The Death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

It was a Thursday lunchtime. I saw on Twitter that “something” was happening. Various people were speculating on what it might be and were talking about “London Bridge”. I switched on the TV news to see that Buckingham Palace had issued a statement saying that the Queen’s doctors were “concerned for Her Majesty’s health” and had recommended that she remain under medical supervision. The mood in the studio was sombre, with Huw Edwards and Nicholas Witchell in dark suits and ties. It was unusual, we were told, for the palace to issue a statement about the Queen’s health, as this was normally regarded as a private matter. You had to feel for the presenters who remained on air for hours with very little to add after the initial statement. We were told that members of the Royal Family were travelling to Balmoral and that this was clearly a significant development.

And then at 6.30PM the formal announcement was made. A notice was posted on the gates of Buckingham Palace, and we were told that the Queen had died. Many of us will remember for years to come where we were when we heard the news. (As people remember where they were when they heard that George VI had died.)

Of course, at the moment of her death, the royal succession meant that we had a King – Charles III. You do have to feel for him: he begins the role that he has been preparing for all his life while grieving the loss of his mother, and having to do all of that in the public eye. The following days must have been intensely gruelling for him and the other members of the Queen’s family, with vigils, services, and processions, and the preparation for a State funeral, the like of which we might never see again.

On Monday 19 September, along with millions – possibly billions – of others, we sat down to watch the Queen’s funeral on TV. We had a moment of drama: our television set had no signal from the aerial! We had to tune into the BBC broadcast on an iPad. Even on that fairly little screen, we got a sense of the scale of the event. (And a better picture than the broadcast of the Coronation in 1953, which people watched on their 14″ black and white television sets!) You can’t fail to have been impressed by spectacle of it all and the extraordinary attention to detail – the beat of the drum which kept the whole procession in step, the dignity of the mourners, and the precision of the military and other personnel who took part.

Our hearts went out particularly to the eight pallbearers, soldiers from 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards. Two of them were just 19 years old, carrying on their shoulders the Queen’s coffin and an unimaginable responsibility. They did their job faultlessly and I think we all breathed a sigh of relief with them when their duties were over. There are calls for them to be honoured. I hope that someone – perhaps the King? – put some money over the bar for them to have a drink when the day was over. I also like to think that they will be able to walk into any pub in the country and never have to buy a pint again! It’s easy to forget, seeing them in ceremonial mode, that these were real soldiers. They were flown in from operational service in Iraq and will go straight back to active duty.

Among the most memorable moments for me was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon. I timed it at 5 minutes and 31 seconds, so I assume he was told he could have five minutes! I later learned that his script was just 502 words long. In such a limited space and a short time, I thought he got it right – he hit the right note, was respectful to the occasion, and managed to say some important things. He spoke of Christian hope and his message focussed on Jesus, who as servant leader was Her Majesty’s role model and inspiration.

His tribute to Her Majesty noted:

“People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer. But in all cases, those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten.”

I wonder if any of the great and the good assembled in Westminster Abbey shuffled uncomfortably in their pews as they heard those words.

The sermon, which might well be the most heard sermon ever preached, was in a sense a gift, because we know that Her Late Majesty was a sincere Christian who was not ashamed to talk about her faith in Jesus Christ, and to acknowledge her own dependence on the God she was called to serve.

The Archbishop’s final paragraph referred to some words that the Queen herself had used in addressing the nation during the COVID-19 lockdown:

“We will all face the merciful judgement of God: we can all share the Queen’s hope which in life and death inspired her servant leadership.

“Service in life, hope in death. All who follow the Queen’s example, and inspiration of trust and faith in God, can with her say: ‘We will meet again.’

If nothing else, I learned from the Archbishop that it is possible to preach a worthwhile sermon in 500 words and just over five minutes. I have made a note and will endeavour to emulate him! (I note that this article is approaching 1000 words, so I should draw to a close.)

My final story is something that one of our church families told me. They have been bringing their child to church regularly. On the day of the funeral they sat down together and watched the service from Westminster Abbey. As the service closed, the child asked, “are they going to have tea and biscuits now?”

Alan Jewell

Two prayers issued by the Church of England, following the death of Her Majesty the Queen

God of love,

We thank you for the life of The Queen,

for her service to our nation,

and for her faith in you.

Be close to all of us who mourn,

that we may we find comfort and hope in your love,

through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Everlasting God, we pray for our new King.

Bless his reign and the life of our nation.

Help us to work together

so that truth and justice, harmony and fairness

flourish among us;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.


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