photo Bernie Brown
It did not seem over profound, as is the style of the man, but Justin Welby, The Archbishop of Canterbury preached an awesome sermon at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.
Give me a minute and we will come to that.
This past February we had the privilege of having Justin Welby at the 4 Corners Festival. I was given the not at all onerous task of entertaining the Archbishop for a few hours.
We called in at the Dock Cafe in the Titanic Quarter. As we did a customer behind us recognised Justin. We were ushered to our reserved seats and had some lunch. As we were leaving I lost himself but when he caught up with me he told me how he had tracked down the customer who came in behind us. The man was struggling with a crisis of faith and Justin had given him a chapter in Luke to reflect on and prayed with him.
We moved on. The 4 Corners Festival Knitting event was taking place in Fitzroy. No one was expecting such a visit but when I walked in with the Archbishop of Canterbury one of my own congregation went as giddy as a 16 year old in 1964 might have gone a Beatle just walked in! She was passed herself. As we left Justin told me that his book about Christmas that Fitzroy had sent all of our congregation during lockdown in 2020 had been what she used through the grief of losing her husband. Hence the excitement of being able to thank him.
We finally reached the 4 Corners Festival Wonderful Wander. At its end while having coffee a former politician wanted to meet the Archbishop. He then thanked him for being a consistent opposition to the Tory government when opposition seemed weak or non existent.
Having finally left the Archbishop to his evening accommodation I surmised on the way home how in just two hours he had without any fuss or contrived effort been a pastor, prophet and evangelist in the most ordinary everyday ways.
I was drawn back to that Saturday afternoon as I surmised his sermon at Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. Again, in the most ordinary of ways he was pastoral, prophetic and evangelistic. It was a sermon that drew near and reached far... very far!
The Archbishop showed his pastoral sensitivity as he brought his words close to those sitting in the very seats in front of him as he spoke pastorally, praying that God would heal the grief of the Royal Family and fill their void with happy memories.
Looking up and metaphorically across the world, to those world leaders down the Abbey, he then reached as wide as a preacher can to the ends of the earth. Beginning with “The pattern for many leaders is to be exalted in life and forgotten after death...” He then pointed out Queen Elizabeth’s radical reign of sacrificial service. Those who serve, "will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten." He wasn't missing and hitting the walls of the Abbey here. Hundreds of heads of state got the preach!
The recurring thread holding it all together was Queen Elizabeth’s faith. Knowing who you follow is crucial suggested Welby. The who for Queen Elizabeth was Jesus, the way, the truth and the life as Prime Minister Liz Truss had just read from John 14. That faith brings hope as the Archbishop put it “The pattern for all who serve God – famous or obscure, respected or ignored – is that death is the door to glory.”
I surmised as a preacher the opportunity that such a sermon at such a funeral offers. A hurting family mourning a matriarch - be pastoral. The opportunity that so few ever get, world leaders are in the room - be prophetic. The entire world is watching - be missional.
And I was back walking alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury at the 4 Corners Festival in February. Remembering in action what I now heard in words. Powerful.