“Changed from glory into glory till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise!”
As the TV camera panned towards the Imperial State Crown placed on top of the Queen’s coffin and Charles Wesley’s hymn ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’ drew to a close, the message Her Majesty wanted to communicate through the hymns and Bible verses she chose for her funeral was clear.
The service was distinct in providing a message of hope. ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ the choir at Westminster Abbey sang, before Prime Minister Liz Truss reminded us of Jesus’ words in John chapter 14: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
Every word and song had been planned by Queen Elizabeth before her death. And it resonated.
Rt Rev Ruth Bushyager, Bishop of Horsham wrote on Twitter: “Our Late Queen knew what she was doing when she chose the Bible readings for her funeral. An evangelist to the nation, even still. Thank you, Ma’am,” while The Telegraph columnist Tim Stanley remarked, “In 2022, an age of atheism and the suppression of faith, perhaps the largest TV audience in history went to an unafraid statement of Christian belief. The Queen’s gift.”
There were traditions, as you’d expect; a moving procession of family, military and religious leaders. But from start to finish, that hope-filled message resounded. It was a theme carried on through the sermon given by, Most Rev Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury. “We will meet again,” he declared, quoting the famous war-time song of Dame Vera Lynn.
He began by paying tribute to the Queen with a poignant message to the 500 world leaders gathered inside the Abbey: “People of loving service are rare in any walk of life,” he said. “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.”
The sermon, which was just six minutes long, soon turned evangelistic: “Christian hope means certain expectation of something not yet seen. Christ rose from the dead and offers life to all, abundant life now and life with God in eternity.
“As the Christmas carol says: “where meek souls will receive him still / The dear Christ enters in.”
“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.’
”The service had been organised to include a variety of denominations, including the Pentecostal Church, Church of Scotland and Free Churches Group. Vincent Nichols became the first Catholic Cardinal to ever deliver a prayer at a Westminster Abbey public service.
It was the service that the Queen had wanted, but perhaps also that the country needed. After a time of mourning, a reminder, through another reading: ‘O death, where is thy sting?’. Queen Elizabeth has died, but will now take her place in eternity. A promise for every one of us, regardless of our stature.