A Tale of Two Elizabeths: Sermon for a Requiem for Queen Elizabeth

Requiem For HM Queen Elizabeth

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, 18 September, 2022

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We are an Easter people. St Augustine wrote, and Alleluia is our song.

Much has been made in recent days of the faith of our late Queen.

She was a believer.

A faithful churchgoer and unafraid to mention Jesus Christ and her faith in him.

Because she was a believer Jesus was not for her, as some of the media suggest simply an inspiration, an example to follow, though yes those things too. But he was above all the one who came that we might have eternal life.

Jesus came and did something, he died, descended to hell and rose again. He defeated death.

We say this here in this church each day as we pray the Apostles creed at Evensong and the Nicene creed at our Sunday Eucharist. You and I will say this today in just a moment. These Creeds have been prayed in this building for eight centuries and on this site for thirteen hundred years.

They are the heart of our Christian faith, the faith that the Queen shared and believed.

It is a while since I’ve brought a visual aid to church for my sermon but I do have one today.

It is an icon, Russian, I think, that is often called an icon of the resurrection but is really an icon of the harrowing of hell.

Jesus standing on the cross descends to the place of the dead, not really hell at all, but the place where the dead, righteous and unrighteous have been awaiting him.

It is worth spending some time with an icon like this, noticing the detail, the people standing around Jesus. The cross as his vehicle, it is the means by which, his death, that redeems the world.

This week each day in this church a Requiem Eucharist has been offered. But in a way every Eucharist is a Requiem, every time we break bread and drink this cup we are participating the death and resurrection of Jesus just as all the sacraments are a participation in that death and resurrection.

It is much easier to think about the resurrection of course. We all like a happy ending.

But the cross as the symbol of our faith is a reminder that we will all die. That death is inevitable and certain.

As we mourn the death of our Queen as we reflect on her dying. We also reflect on the arc of her life. We have seen pictures of her childhood, of her growing up, her teenage years, and her driving in uniform in the war. We have seen her on her wedding day and with her children, we have watched as she has got old and as she approached death.

Those final photographs as she met the new Prime Minister just a few days ago revealed a woman close to the end of her life.

A monarch symbolises a nation, a people, a monarch represents power, government and authority but also humanity.

This public life is lived so that we can all see what it is to be human. To be a person who will die. And to accept that fact and the fact of the resurrection of the dead which Jesus has won for us.

There are over three hundred and seventy tombs and memorials in this cathedral. We walk on the dead. The dead surround us.

I have been thinking a lot about the dead this week.

I come into church each day to say my prayers before anyone else gets here and I enjoy the presence of the dead.

If you don’t know it I would especially recommend that you visit and spend time with the tomb of Lady Elizabeth Montacute. It is one of the tombs that separates the shrine of St Frideswide from the Lady Chapel. It may have originally stood under the ceiling there which seems to have been painted with the same colours.

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It is a remarkably detailed tomb. The pattern on her dress is visible and the shape of her headdress is is clear. Around the sides of the tomb are small statues of eight of her children. Two were Abbesses of the Benedictine convent at Barking in Essex, one was bishop of Ely. Their clothes too are clear. Sadly at some point the heads of the statues were knocked off, probably by Oliver Cromwells thugs who were too dim to realise that these were not canonised saints but the children of this benefactress who gave so much to the building of this cathedral.

I often feel the strong presence of our foundress at the shrine, but this week I have felt strongly the presence of this other Elizabeth. Lady Elizabeth Montacute, who lived seven centuries ago.

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These two strong women remind me of the strong women in my life. My grandmother and mother and so many others.

They remind me that we all die but that in Jesus death is never the end.

And so we pray for Elizabeth our Queen, that her participation in the death of Jesus which was so much a part of her life will bring her a joyful resurrection.

She was an Easter person and Alleluia was her song.

We are Easter people and Alleluia is our song.