I was outside relaxing with friends on September 8, when we heard the news of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s passing. The four of us—including a British church denomination leader, a Royal fine artist, and a previous chief operating officer of the Royal Albert Hall—spent some time reflecting on her extraordinary life.
It was particularly moving as each of us had interacted with the Queen, albeit briefly, during our lifetimes. My only face-to-face meeting was near the end of her life, at an award ceremony at Holyrood. She had taken ill two days previously and I feared she would not be well enough to meet. I was such a huge fan that I had delayed receiving the Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire honor for over fifteen months just to ensure she was the presenter.
Thankfully, and despite being in her early nineties, she faithfully appeared and stood for hours shaking hands, chatting even for a few minutes with enthusiasm and humor about the idea of a modern hymn writer.
While no human is ever perfect, there is much in Queen Elizabeth II’s life for us to learn from and be thankful for.
Having just come off a conference last week focused on liturgy, it is interesting to consider how the rhythms of her life and worship framed her extraordinary consistency. In the wake of a changing world, fading empire, and painful family dysfunction that played out under public scrutiny, she was deeply committed to Sunday worship (when her busy schedule and weighty responsibilities may have seemed like a valid excuse to miss). She was a person of the Bible and the prayer book, loved traditions and rhythms in life, and was quick to practice repentance for her mistakes—both in private and public.
Passion and Vision
She was also a person of passion and vision. She was far more than just the “steady hand” she was often made out to be, tackling change and societal challenges—from economic inequality to racism—with clarity and grace. She loved the arts and beauty, had a deep understanding of how history forms us, and a unique vision and ability to re-energize Britain and a commonwealth of nations carrying deep hurt. She had a twinkle in her eye that spoke of a keen interest in people and an authentic joy. There was a sense that beneath the pomp and ceremony which characterized her 96 years, Elizabeth II was a real person with real loves, real faith, and real hope.
One of the lessons Elizabeth’s life offers the contemporary church is a testimony of finishing well. It’s a beautiful thing to watch a leader’s life unfold as hers did, with virtue, dignity, and grace to the end. At a time when so many leaders—even within the church—do not finish well, their lives and ministries tainted by sin and scandal, Elizabeth’s well-run race reminds us to hold fast in faithfulness.
Our recent Sing! conference featured three speakers facing the last years of their lives, inspiring us to stay faithful, not to waste time, and to keep growing in passion for the Lord. Joni Eareckson Tada’s parting words to us—“see you on the other side”—ring in my ears. I can’t help but reflect on those for whom this is not the case.
At a time when so many leaders—even within the church—do not finish well, their lives and ministries tainted by sin and scandal, Elizabeth’s well-run race reminds us to hold fast in faithfulness.
I paged through Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis on Thursday with songwriters as they popped in to say goodbye to our family. Written at the end of his life, Wilde admits “I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber, one has some day to cry aloud from the house-top . . . I ended in horrible disgrace.”
The De Profundis is based on Psalm 130 (“Out of the depths I cry. . .”) but Wilde’s is a hopeless testimony despite such natural God given creative genius.
Contrast that with Joni Tada. Also contrast it with Queen Elizabeth II, who from the turn of the century spoke more openly and fearlessly about her faith until she died, once saying: “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves—from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person—neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Savior, with the power to forgive.”
From Age to Age Endure
A few days before the Queen’s death, in honor of the recent 70th anniversary celebration of the Queen’s coronation, we opened Sing! with the Psalm 100 arrangement by Vaughan Williams (“All People That on Earth Do Dwell”), written for the Queen’s enthronement in 1953. It was a spine-tingling moment that increased in its significance with the happenings of the following days. Watch the video below, and may it inspire you to sing to the Lord with cheerful voice today, and until that day:
For why the Lord our God is good.
His mercy is forever sure.
His truth at all times firmly stood
And shall from age to age endure.