Bishop Debbie’s Sermon from Evensong at Winchester Cathedral – 11 September 2022

Bishop Debbie’s Sermon from Evensong at Winchester Cathedral – 11 September 2022

In 2002, her late Majesty said the following words:

‘I know just how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad. Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God!’

We have seen many moving photographs and films of her late Majesty over the last couple of days and amongst the wide range of occasions that have been represented have been images of her coronation. More than ever, I have been struck about how young she was when she became queen. For most of us at the age of 25, there is an element of freedom about how we live – choices about how to spend our time – opportunities to explore who we might become –  limited responsibilities – scope to move into a variety of careers that will bring us fulfilment.  Aged 25, the life of her Majesty laid out before her was one of service and duty. At the age of 21 she had already declared to devote her life to our service – in Westminster Abbey at her coronation she solemnly made an oath to do so – and through her long life we have witnessed the working out of her promises with immense grace and dignity. As I have watched again the footage of her making those vows,  it has made me  wonder what was going through her mind during the ceremony – how daunted must she have felt – and whether she felt able to do what was being asked of her. She certainly could not have achieved all that she accomplished in her own strength so at the end of the oath the following words ring as a prayer.

‘The things which I have here before promised, I will perform and keep. So help me God.’

The queen was often quiet about her faith but as she grew older she expressed more publicly just how must she depended on God. Her words which I quoted at the beginning express the reality of a life of duty made possible through her faith in God and we glimpse through them, the image of a child of God who followed the example of Jesus in calling out to her heavenly father to sustain and uphold her.

She would have known the words expressed in Psalm 18 which echo those of hers:

‘The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
    my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
    my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.’   

We are living in a time of national mourning and we will each be aware of the sadness in our own hearts, not least when we observe the grief of a family who has lost a dear mother, grandmother, great grandmother. It may well be that this has stirred up memories of loss in our own lives and we experience again the grief that had in part subsided. It might also be that the death of the queen has caused us to feel shaken or disturbed – after all her stabilising presence has offered security through all the changes that we have known over the last 70 years. How good then to know that we too can turn to God as our rock and fortress, our comfort and protector.

As we mourn the loss of the Queen and give thanks for her life, we welcome, and give thanks for, the new monarch, King Charles III. He has already spoken to the nation, expressing his commitment to serve, building on the life of duty he has already led. We pray for him that he, like his mother, will know the loving arms of God holding him throughout the good times and the bad, and that he will know the Lord as his rock, his fortress and his deliverer.