23 April 2021
Many have commented that the Queen was a lonely figure at the funeral of her husband Prince Philip last Saturday. She sat alone, dressed simply in black, with little hint of her royal status. True, there was the grandeur of the chapel, the massed bands, the guard of honour, the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. And yet she seemed so ordinary, like any older woman who had lost her husband after many years of marriage. She could be your friend, your mother, your grandmother, even you.
Perhaps that is the enduring appeal of the Queen and the other members of the Royal Family, at least when they do their job well. They are our representatives. The Queen manages to be both one of us and not one of us at the same time. In facing death and bereavement, she is certainly one of us. Each of us has an appointment with death, and with God, that no one can keep for us.
The words of Psalm 23, verse 4 will often be read at a funeral service: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” The darkest valley of all is the valley of death, where there is plenty of evil to be found. Yet here is a believer, who sees himself under the protection of the Lord, who can say even here, “I will fear no evil.” How can he say that? Has he not seen what he has to face? He has, and he sees a greater reality: “you are with me.” That, or rather ‘he’, makes all the difference.
One of my favourite Bible commentators is Derek Kidner, and one of my favourite lines of his is a comment on this verse: “Only the Lord can lead a man through death; all other guides turn back, and the traveller must go on alone.” For me this captures the idea that each of us must face death alone, and yet not alone if the Lord walks with us. He alone has walked that road ahead of us. He alone knows the way. He alone has come back to lead us through.
Here is the distinctly Christian view of death. We can face it in all its awfulness. It’s not natural. It’s not just ‘part of life.’ It’s not ‘nothing at all.’ It is truly awful. And yet we can say, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Thankfully, in the Queen’s case, we have every reason to believe she knows these things. We can only pray that she will know the Lord’s presence deeply in the days and years ahead.
Lord, you are the guide who will never leave our side, not in life, not even in death. Help us to see that, help us to see you, and so to fear no evil. Amen.
Chris Hobbs, Senior Minister