The Queen is dead, long live the King!
Since Queen Elizabeth’s death, we have been witnessing to a mighty outpouring of grief and love for her. Newscasts, articles, documentaries, commentaries have cascaded upon us. High and low, rich and poor, celebrities and members of the public have all been asked, and given, their thoughts and feelings on the Queen’s death, and all have spoken in the warmest of tones about their regard and affection for her. The great majority of us have known no other sovereign.
So, what does God’s word say to us about the passing of this monarch of ours? We are reminded by our second reading today to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and dignity”. This was written at a time when royalty held supreme power over the lives of their citizens. If they were of good and stable disposition, the citizens could relax and get on with the business of living without fear of sudden arrest or execution. Of course, today, the Queen or King both in England, and here in Canada and in many other countries in the Commonwealth is head of state, but not head of government. She or he wields symbolic authority, not actual executive power. As one newspaper article I read stated: the Queen, “presided, but did not rule”. Nonetheless, many, in speaking of Queen Elizabeth’s long reign, have spoken about the stability and assurance she gave , during an era of so much turmoil, conflict and uncertainty, social and political. So, the diocese here, and doubtless many dioceses throughout the world, have given us many prayer resources for possible use at this time of mourning for the Queen’s passing and transition to a new era under King Charles.
However, with all that said, there are many who wield authority and power around the world, whether symbolic or executive. But there is, and our second reading makes no bones about declaring it, “only one God” over all of them. Queen Elizabeth, King Charles, the President of the United States, all other presidents and monarchs and rulers, in effect, “preside, but do not rule”. God makes princes and rulers, any authority they have comes from him, and at his pleasure, not theirs. God can make and depose as he sees fit. Human power and authority are allowed by him, because they are meant by him, as our second reading says, ”to enable us to lead quiet and peaceful lives in all godliness and dignity“. Of course there are , there have been, and undoubtedly there will continue to be, unworthy and wicked rulers, even popes and kings, because “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” the words of Lord Acton over a century ago, Sin affects us all, the lowly and mighty alike, but that is not , and never has been, God’s desire , not what he planned for , and he can remove them , as and when he sees fit, and it seems in that respect, that our fervent and insistent prayer can be a part of such actions on his part (Transformation videos – Uganda). In other words, we get the ruler we deserve, we get what we pray for. If we are not praying for our government leaders, for God to bless them, for their conversion if necessary, or removal if necessary, then we cannot blame God for who we get. Our intercessions at Mass always include, as the Congregation for Divine Worship in the Vatican, prescribes, prayers for our leaders. Outside of that, how persistent and fervent are we in praying for those in authority over us, whether it is political, social or spiritual authority? God can in the words of our psalm today, “raise up the poor and needy, and make them sit down with the princes of his people”, for he has equal love and regard for all people, rich or poor. But all that said, nonetheless St Paul urges us, in our second reading today, that “it is right and acceptable in the sight of God to pray for our rulers” not least because Jesus tells us that “to those whom much is given, much will be demanded“. Anyone in any kind of authority has to account, not just for their own decisions, but for the effect those decisions have made on the lives of those under their authority – whether we are monarchs, or government leaders, or pastors, or teachers, or parents.
Finally, though our dear Queen lived to be 96, what is that in the sight of God, who is eternal? Young or old, rich or poor, what matters is what we do with our span of life, short or long. I am looking forward to seeing what readings and prayers Queen Elizabeth has chosen for her funeral. Because she would have chosen them long before. And they will show us something of how she saw herself before God. She never wanted to be Queen, it seems, she only ever wanted to be a wife and mother, and always a “simple Christian”. Many commentators have spoken about the importance of her faith to her. She always made reference to it in her Christmas message each year. She consulted with the great Christian evangelist , Billy Graham, at moments of crisis in her reign, such as whether to forgive her uncle, Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne of England to marry a divorcee, and precipitated the greatest crisis in the royal family’s history; and also, during the tortuous breakdown of her son, Charles’, marriage to Princess Diana.
God desires, in the words of our second reading, “everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth,” and that truth, of course, is Christ Jesus our Lord. In our slightly complicated parable today, the point Jesus is making, is that we should learn how to make use of our God-given resources, whether they be money or possessions, or power, or privilege, to gain us entry into heaven, our “eternal home”. This does not mean we can manipulate God with what we have, that we can bribe our way into, or pay for, heavenly privileges. But we are to understand that this life is just one we are passing through, on the way to a greater and eternal one, and whether we end up in heaven or hell – and, yes, Scripture and Church teaching, make very clear that hell does exist, whether we believe that or not-where we end up depends on how we have lived our lives out here on earth. A memory of Queen Elizabeth, shown pretty frequently on news items and documentaries over the last week or so, show her speaking on the occasion of her 21st birthday, and pledging to her subjects that her “whole life, whether long or short, will be dedicated to serving you all to the best of my ability”. Service of others, and of her Lord Jesus Christ, was indeed the cornerstone of her whole reign, and, as I said to the Ladies auxiliary Group last Wednesday at Mass, service of God and others, must be at the centre of every ministry and activity of our lives, fueled by our love for Jesus and his love for us. Jesus, Others, Yourself in that order, leads to JOY – joy!
So let us imitate our dearly beloved Queen Elizabeth in her life-long attitude of loving service of our God and Savior, and of others whom God sends into our path, and seek in all we say and do to bring others to the knowledge of the truth of Jesus and thereby to their eternal salvation. Let us stand and pray.