As a constitutional monarch, the nature of Queen Elizabeth II’s role dictated she not offer opinions. No one knew which political party she supported, or which was her favourite of the 15 prime ministers who served during her reign, or whether she was pro-Brexit or pro-Remain. So it’s significant that in her 70-year reign, Her Majesty only wrote one foreword. The book was published by the Bible Society for her 90th birthday celebrations in 2016, and it was titled The Servant Queen and the King She Serves.
There will be many millions of words written about the Queen over the coming days. Many will have been pre-prepared. When I worked for a news agency, the Press Association, 20 years ago, there were dozens of articles kept under the strictest of embargoes, ready for release upon the Queen’s death. The words that follow here were not pre-prepared and are unpolished.
But however smooth or eloquent, it’s unlikely any eulogy will sum her up better than the title of that book. Though she was herself a queen, Her Majesty always knew she had a sovereign and that he loved her, died for her, had forgiven her, and now called her to live a life of loving service in response. She may have been a queen, but she saw herself first and foremost as the subject of the King. “Billions of people follow Christ’s teaching and find in him the guiding light for their lives,” she once said. “I am one of them.”
Service, Not Self-Actualisation
That line was from one of the Queen’s Christmas Day speeches, the first of which was given on the radio in 1952. Her addresses are now watched annually by millions on TV throughout the Commonwealth. These were her opportunity to, as far as her constitutional position allowed, talk about her faith and encourage her subjects to consider Christ.
It was striking when we put together a book for children about the Queen’s faith to mark her Platinum Jubilee to see just how often she spoke of Jesus. In 2012, she reminded us that “this is the time of year when we remember that God sent his only Son to serve, not to be served,” both to save us and as an example to us. She followed that example. In our era, when duty has fallen out of fashion and “being true to yourself” has become the lodestar for a generation, she marched resolutely to a different beat. Hers was a life of service, not self-actualisation.
In our era, when duty has fallen out of fashion, she marched resolutely to a different beat. Hers was a life of service, not self-actualisation.
Her Majesty met millions of people, but in all the footage we’ll watch on loop over the coming days, notice she always gave her attention to the person in front of her. She never seemed in a hurry to move past him or her. It didn’t seem to matter to her whether the person to whom she was speaking was a president or a pauper. She could have enjoyed the wealth and status her position gave her. Instead, she showed us a life of dutiful service in the interest of others, one that treats each person with dignity regardless of status. In that, she gave us a glimpse of the One who left the riches of heaven and made himself nothing, being born in the form of a servant and giving all he had to serve his people.
Link to the Past, Signpost to Eternity
Throughout the dominions the Queen ruled, no one under the age of 70 has known another monarch. The nature of this world is ever-changing and often uncertain. But she was a fixed point. The Queen was always part of life—rarely front and centre in our consciousness, but always there. She connected us to our past. She’d endured the Blitz of London in the Second World War; her first prime minister had been Winston Churchill; her mother had been born in the Victorian age. Everything changes; but, in many ways, she did not. Until today.
That’s why, though she was 96, her death feels like a shock. We knew she would die one day, and yet perhaps a part of us felt she never would. Something in us craves the constancy, the security, of something that doesn’t change, of a rock you can put your foot on and know it will never move. The Queen couldn’t be unchanging forever, but her feet were on a different Rock.
Who knows what the future of the monarchy will be? Many loved Elizabeth rather than the institution itself. But while to many, monarchy is an anachronism—and they may be right—it’s worth remembering that as Christians, we’re looking forward to living under an absolute monarch.
To the extent that Elizabeth was kind, servant-hearted, and consistent, she showed us the blessing it is to live under a good ruler. She pointed us to the truth that humanity was created to enjoy life under an all-powerful, all-knowing, always-loving ruler, who (like the Queen) isn’t swayed by opinion polls and never needs to run for election and whose authority isn’t dependent on majority opinion. Humans are happiest under a perfect monarch.
The problem, as Queen Elizabeth knew, is that such a leader cannot be found in this world. The wonder, as Queen Elizabeth also knew, is that one day he will arrive, coming on the clouds.
Shared Humanity, Shared Salvation
A commentator on the BBC earlier reminded me of one of the more unlikely friendships of the last half-century: that between Queen Elizabeth and Billy Graham. By background, culture, class, and calling, they couldn’t have been more different. Yet each enjoyed the other’s company, and (despite the raised eyebrows of some in the Anglican establishment) when Graham came to the U.K. for his crusades, the Queen would always invite him to visit her, preach to her, and stay for lunch to discuss the Scripture passage. In his autobiography, Just as I Am, Graham recounted one such lunch, at which he told her he’d not been sure which passage to choose and had toyed with—but then decided against—preaching from the healing of the man by the pool at Bethesda in John 5.
To the extent that Elizabeth was kind, servant-hearted, and consistent, she showed us the blessing it is to live under a good ruler.
“Her eyes,” he wrote, “sparkled and she bubbled over with enthusiasm. . . . ‘I wish you had!’ she exclaimed. ‘That is my favourite story.’” Again, it’s hard to imagine two more different people—a cripple for 38 years with no one to help him and a queen for decades with scores of servants. But he needed to hear Jesus’s words of healing and salvation, and so did she.
In these last months of her earthly life, the Queen had suffered with her own “mobility problems.” But not today. Not now. For my monarch was also my sister, and we’ll see her again, standing on steady legs before the throne of the King she knew, loved, and served.
Thank you, Your Majesty, for your years of service. Thank you, Your Majesty, for reminding us that there is a greater Ruler. Thank you, Your Majesty, for the ways you showed us Jesus.