Photo credit: Nicolas de Camaret, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The last week has brought tectonic changes.
After seventy years on the throne, the Queen has died. She is no longer with us. It is no surprise that so many around the country are feeling a degree of personal bereavement. Whatever one’s thoughts about her or about the monarchy, she has been, simply, there. I have found myself reaching for Psalm 46.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
Therefore, we will not fear . . .
Huge changes in leadership can make people feel unsafe. It can feel like the earth is giving way. Many centuries ago, when Israel faced danger and the people were fearful, the psalmist called attention to God’s strength and his faithfulness.
That’s a word you may have heard or read in the last week. It’s been associated with our late Queen.
I am in my mid-50s and, outside of my immediate family, no other figure has been so constantly visible for my entire life. In an age which is so conscious of the power of image, hers has been literally all-pervasive. No doubt a day has passed in my adult life when I haven’t seen some representation of the Queen, but there haven’t been many. Whether on stamps, or on TV, or when handing over coins in the supermarket, her image has been everywhere. That’s why she became part of our sense of identity and community.
She was always there. She projected constancy. With a steady hand, she managed to steer the country through turbulent times as the U.K. moved from being an empire (when she came to the throne) to a Commonwealth.
We all crave constancy. It underpins and anchors who we are. Having some reliable certainties in life is extremely valuable to us. And that is what many will feel has gone. We do not just feel sadness at the loss of our sovereign. For many, it feels like a small (but quite foundational) part of everyone has died. This would be disorienting enough on its own, but the country is also facing global instability, an economic crisis, post-pandemic challenges, and a change in prime minister. No wonder it can feel to many that the waters are roaring and foaming, and the mountains are quaking with their surging.
Yet constancy can be surprisingly ephemeral. Paradoxically, even constancy is fleeting. People are saying that they felt the Queen would go on forever because she had reigned for so long. But even seventy years is transitory. Indeed, in the grand scheme of things, it’s momentary.
Christian leaders are shepherds. To care for people at a time like this, we need to be aware of the strength of feeling running through our communities. It’s good to be aware of our own emotions too. We are experiencing global and historic change, which can make us feel inadequate, and leave us feeling punctured, disoriented and afraid. Those we serve need to be reminded that while it may feel like the earth is moving, it is not. There is genuinely solid ground.
Those we serve want assurance. They need assurance.
As the Queen knew, and often reminded us, it was not to be found in a monarch or any other human being—except one.
In contrast to the terrifying surging waters of Psalm 46, there is also a river whose streams make glad the city of God. There is a place where God dwells, that is safe and secure. His rule won’t fail, he helps his people when nations are in uproar, when even the very earth melts. As the Psalm repeats: the LORD Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.
This is a moment for gentle shepherding.
It is also a moment to lead people to Christ, our rock and our fortress. Many will feel bereaved. Some will be considering their own impending death, while others will find the passing of the Queen triggers memories of other bereavements they have experienced. Still others will be afraid of the unknown. The answer—the only answer—for each and every one, is trust in our King and his kingdom that cannot be shaken. They need to know that there is no power in heaven and earth, in life or in death that can separate us from his love.
Sentimental sermons are not the answer. When facing insecurity, nothing less than God himself is enough. He is always enough. And he is constant. In the Scriptures, divine constancy has another word: faithfulness.
Our God is faithful, even to the end of the age.
So, as you lead your communities in the coming days, remind them that comfort and consolation come from knowing a faithful God, one who is working all things for the good of those who love him. Then the uncertain future will take on a different complexion. Not because we are adequate to the times, but because he is.
And because ultimately, we are safe in the cleft of our Almighty Rock, who has us in his unshakeable grasp.
A prayer by my friend and colleague Paul Coulter:
Gracious God, Majesty in heaven, blessed and only Sovereign,
We give thanks for the public service of Queen Elizabeth.
In countless interactions, she treated people of every station with honour and dignity.
We give thanks for her public profession of faith in your Son, our Lord Jesus.
In her coronation vows and Christmas messages, she testified to dependence on Him.
We give thanks for her steadfast devotion to family, nation and Commonwealth.
Through changing times and personal challenges, she was a faithful wife and matriarch.
We, who knew her a little from afar, pray for those who loved her dearly and nearly.
May her family, friends, and servants find comfort in your love.
In their grief may they seek refuge in your Son, and rest in your great promises.
We pray especially for the new king, Charles.
We give thanks for his expressed intention to serve with your help.
May he seek your kingdom and righteousness above all else.
May his advisors give wise counsel in accordance with your will.
May his influence be for good, that your people may lead peaceful and quiet lives,
Free to live in godliness and dignity in every way, and to proclaim the gospel of Christ.
In the name of our Lord and eternal King Jesus,
Photo credit: Nicolas de Camaret, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons