I was so sorry this afternoon to hear that Queen Elizabeth II was gravely ill and that the family were gathering at her bedside. I gathered at my own dad’s bedside back in April. It was a tough few days and I prayed that the Royal Family would not a sense of the presence of God that I did back then. I am surprised at how emotional I am tonight hearing that she has passed away.
I am no monarchist. I struggle with entitlement, titles by birth, the decadent wealth of palaces and all the pomp and ceremony. I struggle with conquering Empires. I am sure someone could tell me that all of the investment in the Royal Family brand has a big return in Tourism so I will not surmise that now.
I did however really like Queen Elizabeth II. She’s been a constant in my 60 years on earth. During her recent Platinum Jubilee I marvelled at someone who has so committed to their vocation for 70 years. I mean most of us are looking forward to retirement heading towards 45 years in the workplace. Here is a woman still working, and serving for others, at 96. Fair play!
In her Christmas messages the Queen always went back to Jesus. She would always quote some Bible phrase and share some Christian wisdom. In the modern world where she was still Queen this was courageous and a sign of her own faith.
I most admired Queen Elizabeth II for her contribution to the Irish peace process. We could talk about that handshake with Martin McGuinness but I’d like to surmise her 2011 visit to Ireland.
I had looked at it as a nice anaemic trip that would be a security nightmare. To my surprise it turned into a bombardment of iconic moments.
Suddenly the Queen of England is walking onto the pitch at Croke Park, home of the GAA and the place where the first Bloody Sunday took place in 1920; the British army murdering 13 fans and a player in brutal reprisal for their own agents and servicemen killed that morning.
Then the Queen was opening her speech in Irish before getting as close to apology as any monarch can in her, “"things we wish had been done differently or not at all", and “we can bow to the past but we don’t need to be bound by it.”
This was the ushering in of a new Ireland, still divided by a border but more united in its feelings and atmosphere than maybe anywhere else in its history. In her speech she also reminded us that she wasn’t on some safe throne away from the subjective pain of the Troubles but that she too has suffered, alluding to the death of her cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten at the hands of the IRA.
Queen Elizabeth and President McAleese were Heads of State and in some ways get little chance to change anything; that is the job of their Prime Ministers, Taoiseachs and governments. On this occasion, however, they seem to have outdone the powerful ones.
Like me, but on the other side of our border, songwriter Luke Bloom watched on. Like me he expected little of significance. Like me he was suddenly engaged and moved by one simple moment when two women, significant in position but rarely potent with power sowed a seed that could change our island forever.
For Luka as a Queen and a President remembered their dead together something happened. It was not dramatic but it was significant. Luka wrote the beautiful A Seed Was Sown:
A seed was sown
With a simple bow
Where we remembered our heroes
She said the time has come now
She laid her wreath
With dignity and grace
An eloquent silence
And softness in her face
She lowered her head down
And held the pose
My tears flowed freely
God only knows
She remembered our losses
She remembered her own
And in that moment
A seed was sown…..
Death is a sacred time. Part of it is the remembering of a life, the stories that we share. Some stories are new to us or come from a different angle. Some are funny, some warm hearted and some real lessons for life.
As we watch and read obituaries this week, as we watch documentaries I pray that in our reflections we will be moved, particularly those in Northern Ireland who claim loyalty to her, by these brave, grace filled and prophetic actions of Queen Elizabeth II.
Tonight I pray for the Royal Family in their grieving. We all know that heartache. I pray for a nation that cherished Queen Elizabeth II. God be with all who grieve. I pray also that we all might follow our now late Queen into the forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation that she has modelled for us all.