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18th September 2022

Sermon by Acting Diocesan Bishop, Rt Rev. Philip North, remembering Her Late Majesty

Service of Thanksgiving for the Life of Queen Elizabeth II

Blackburn Cathedral September 18 2022

In 1952, to make a phone call you had to use a rotary dial attached to a large object wired into the wall.

Today each of us holds in our hands a mobile device with more computing power than was used to put a man on the moon. In 1952 this nation was the heart of a vast and proud global empire.

Today that has mostly gone, replaced with a Commonwealth and a large dose of post-colonial guilt. Since 1952 the motorway network has sprung up, clogged up and is now much cursed when they close the M6. The mines and mills of a heavily industrialised nation have disappeared, replaced with services, banking and retail distribution centres.

The internet has transformed how we access information, shop and communicate. We have lived through nuclear crises, recessions, Brexit, terrorist attacks, a pandemic and a global banking crisis. 

The second Elizabethan era has been a period of breathtakingly accelerated change. Much of that change has been exciting, much has improved the quality of our lives. But some of it has alienated people, leaving them feeling insecure, fearful and cut adrift in a bewildering world. 

But through it all one thing has stayed constant. A woman called Elizabeth sitting on the throne. If I had to choose one single word to describe the reign of this remarkable woman it would be stability. Through seven decades of change, she has been the fixed point. In a nation which has become ever more diverse in every conceivable way, she has been the stable point of unity.

A celebrity-obsessed culture quite inevitably asks questions about the personality, character and behaviour of the monarch. Already people are asking what kind of King Charles III will be. Will he be popular? Will his people love him? What will he do as monarch? What will he wear? But that’s not the point. 

The purpose of the British monarchy is not to do anything. It is to be. It is to symbolise the nation. It is to be the unchanging fixed point in the constitution. It is to be the holding bay for power that is then given away to the people and their elected representatives. The monarch is the steady overseer of the nation. The art of monarchy is stability. 

And the Queen has performed that role with a gentle wisdom that has been unmatched in the history of this land. We have surely all been privileged to live through the greatest life of modern times. 

Elizabeth has been a steadfast servant of the nation, fulfilling a promise made when she was just 21 to offer her whole life as a gift to her people. She has known exactly when to speak and when to stay silent.

She has demonstrated a steadfast duty and sense of loyalty to her people. She has delighted us with her wry humour and her love of horses and corgis. She has inspired us with her unfailing devotion to her family. She has given her all for us, working into her 97th year and until two days before her death. 

One moment at the height of the pandemic symbolised everything for me. Just when things were at their worst, when lockdown seemed unending, when vaccination seemed months away and we were all thoroughly miserable, she spoke. As always she spoke with simplicity, sincerity and wisdom. You will meet again, she said. And we knew then that everything would be alright. That is the art of monarchy. The stable point in a world of change. 

And because she loved her people with such devotion, she herself is profoundly loved by them as we have seen through the past week of dignified and utterly sincere mourning. She is especially loved in this county where she is not just our Queen but our Duke. The famous queue says it all. 

No crazy shows of mass hysteria. Rather a nation quietly giving thanks for a woman who has been the point of stability whilst all around us has changed. As Jesus says in the Gospel we have heard this afternoon, the good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good. Those words might have been written for her.

And for me this all raises a question. How? How could her late Majesty continue with such perseverance to be the stable point? Jesus goes on totell us the answer. The one who hears my words and acts on them is like a man who built his house on rock. The source of her stability was that ever-stable rock which is Jesus Christ.

Again and again in her Christmas messages and public statements she referred to a deep, undemonstrative but life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. Her life was firmly and solidly built on him. So though she may have felt the effects of the winds and the storms, she was not destroyed by them. Though the floodwaters may have come and gone, she remained steadfast and undaunted.

Our stable point in a world of change, built on the rock that is Christ. And now she has died and we must grieve. I woke up the morning after her death feeling numb and confused. It felt as if a part of my identity had gone. I was unable to imagine myself as anything other than a subject of this servant queen who has always been part of my life. The events of recent days have shown a nation in the deepest grief. And our prayers today are with her family and with those who knew her best, especially our own Lord Lieutenant and Lady Shuttleworth.

Such communal grief is unsurprising. The point of stability has been kicked away and left us floundering, like a house that has lost part of its structure. We must pray for our new King, that we will quickly see in him the same steadfastness as his mother, as I have no doubt we will.

But the times of instability, though deeply distressing, can also be the times of growth. In my own life for example, it is the moments of instability and change  – leaving home, starting a new job – when I have learnt most about myself and what I believe in. Instability shakes us up and forces us to decide what it is that we stand for. 

So this time of national instability can be a chance for us all to reflect on who we want to be. And as we go through that process of rethinking, the life, the values and the faith of the late Queen Elizabeth can challenge and inspire us. 

A life of service can cause us to reflect how we can better serve. What if we all were to do what the late Queen did and make of our lives a gift to the world? What if we were all to live not for self but for service? The nation would be transformed. 

A life of compassion can help us to ask whether we can love more richly and more deeply. How can we give ourselves away to our own families, to the poor and the marginalised, to the broken and the frightened?

And a life of faithfulness can help us to consider whether our own lives are built upon rock or sand. Where do you place your trust? Where do you look for refuge in a fast-changing and sometimes frightening world? What do you believe in?

For no storm, no wind, no changing tide can destroy the house built on the rock that is Christ. Jesus Christ, whom Queen Elizabeth trusted with all her heart, died her death on her behalf. So this woman who once wore the Crown of England now wears the eternal crown of those set free by the cross. The one who donned the royal ermine now wears the dazzling white robes of the redeemed. The one who sat on the throne of this land now sits in the radiant glory of eternity. Her stability is now an eternal stability because it is rooted in the unchanging mercy of God.May she rest in peace. Amen. 

Bishop Philip North, September 2022


Watch Bishop Philip deliver the sermon above in this recording of the service livestream.