Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral service was a beautiful ceremony and a tribute to the United Kingdom’s longest-service monarch. But, more than that, it was a powerful witness to the hope that Her Majesty had in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In his first letter, Peter commands each of us to “honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:15-16 ESV, emphasis added)
The word “hope” in that passage is the Greek word apologia, meaning to make a defence, and is where we get our idea of an “apologist” from. Today, many of us think of apologists as philosophers, scientists and historians who logically defend the faith from intellectual attack.
However, Peter clearly had a broader scope in mind than sheer logical arguments. The emphasis of his passage is actually on our “good behaviour” or conduct testifying to the reality of Christ’s work in our life.
In this sense, Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is a powerful witness to Christ, and to the hope that she had in Him. This is evidenced by the recent royal funeral, for which the Queen had a “heavy hand” in planning.
Spiritual Highlights from Queen Elizabeth II’s Funeral
From the hymn choices to the beautiful Scripture readings, to the powerful sermon by The Most Reverend Justin Welby, the entire service pointed beyond the Queen to the God Whom she served.
Archbishop Welby’s entire sermon is well worth watching (or reading, it is reproduced in full at the end of this article).
The Archbishop of Canterbury began his sermon by acknowledging that the “pattern for all who serve God – famous or obscure, respected or ignore – is that death is the door to glory.” He quotes the reading from John 14:1-6 in which Jesus “does not tell his disciples how to follow, but who to follow – … ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’”.
The Queen did not set her example, he stated, “through her position or her ambition, but through whom she followed”.
This set the tone for the entire homily, which continually directed the attention away from the Queen’s status or personal achievements and to the One to Whom she entrusted her eternity.
“In 1953 the Queen began her Coronation with silent prayer, just there at the High Altar. Her allegiance to God was given before any person gave allegiance to her. Her service to so many people in this nation, the Commonwealth and the world, had its foundation in her following Christ – God himself – who said that he ‘came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”
As Paul says in Romans 13, “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” The Queen recognised her submission and service to a greater Sovereign.
And then Archbishop Welby explicitly shared the Gospel message of God’s offer of salvation to all people through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross:
“Christ rose from the dead and offers life to all, abundant life now and life with God in eternity. As the Christmas carol says ‘where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.’ We will all face the merciful judgement of God: we can all share the Queen’s hope which in life and death inspired her servant leadership.”
Scripture Readings During the Funeral Service
But the sermon itself was not the only clear message of the Gospel. As Stephen McAlpine pointed out, many found the electrifying reading by the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland of 1 Corinthians 15 even more powerful… in fact, almost prophetic.
The other reading at the service was from John 14:1-6.
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:1-6)
Powerful Hymns Sung at the Funeral
The hymns that were sung at Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral – including, for example, Charles Wesley’s Love Divine, All Loves Excelling – also contained profound spiritual significance and Biblical content. You can read the full lyrics, many of them taken directly from Scripture, on the official Westminster Abbey order of service.
The choir also sang directly from Psalm 42:1-7:
“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance. O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar. Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.” (Psalm 42:1-7)
In this context, the singing of the National Anthem, God Save the King, took on a whole new significance. Here is an overtly Christian hymn being sung that acknowledges the subservience of the British monarch to a Higher Sovereign.
“God save our gracious King! Long live our noble King! God save the King! Send him victorious, Happy and glorious, Long to reign over us, God save the King. Thy choicest gifts in store On him be pleased to pour, Long may he reign. May he defend our laws, And ever give us cause, To sing with heart and voice, God save the King.”
A Huge Audience Hears the Good News
The best news of all is that the Biblical Good News of salvation was clearly heard by a worldwide audience of up to half the world’s population. While estimates do vary dramatically (and we will never know the true figure), Her Majesty’s funeral may stand as the greatest (in terms of reach) Gospel proclamation of all time.
You can watch the full-service coverage here:
Full Sermon by The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
“Come Holy Spirit, fill us with the balm of your healing love. Amen. The pattern for many leaders is to be exalted in life and forgotten after death. The pattern for all who serve God – famous or obscure, respected or ignored – is that death is the door to glory. Her Late Majesty famously declared on a 21st birthday broadcast that her whole life would be dedicated to serving the Nation and Commonwealth. Rarely has such a promise been so well kept! Few leaders receive the outpouring of love that we have seen. Jesus – who in our reading does not tell his disciples how to follow, but who to follow – said: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. Her Late Majesty’s example was not set through her position or her ambition, but through whom she followed. I know His Majesty shares the same faith and hope in Jesus Christ as his mother; the same sense of service and duty. In 1953 the Queen began her Coronation with silent prayer, just there at the High Altar. Her allegiance to God was given before any person gave allegiance to her. Her service to so many people in this nation, the Commonwealth and the world, had its foundation in her following Christ – God himself – who said that he ‘came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer. But in all cases those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten. The grief of this day – felt not only by the late Queen’s family but all round the nation, Commonwealth and the world – arises from her abundant life and loving service, now gone from us. She was joyful, present to so many, touching a multitude of lives. We pray especially for all her family, grieving as every family at a funeral – including so many families round the world who have themselves lost someone recently – but in this family’s case doing so in the brightest spotlight. May God heal their sorrow, may the gap left in their lives be marked with memories of joy and life. Her Late Majesty’s broadcast during Covid lockdown ended with: “We will meet again”, words of hope from a song of Vera Lynn. Christian hope means certain expectation of something not yet seen. Christ rose from the dead and offers life to all, abundant life now and life with God in eternity. As the Christmas carol says “where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.” We will all face the merciful judgement of God: we can all share the Queen’s hope which in life and death inspired her servant leadership. Service in life, hope in death. All who follow the Queen’s example, and inspiration of trust and faith in God, can with her say: ‘We will meet again.’”