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The Queen’s death has connected with us at a profound level

13 September 2022

How can the Church communicate hope in the midst of grief, asks John Inge

Alamy

People light candles in remembrance of the late Queen, in Windsor Parish Church, on Saturday

People light candles in remembrance of the late Queen, in Windsor Parish Church, on Saturday

THE Queen’s death has touched us all deeply. I have not met anyone in whom it has not provoked a profound sense of loss. Monarchists and republicans, believers and non-believers, rich and poor, great and small, are all hugely affected. It doesn’t matter whether people met the Queen or not, they still — perhaps to their surprise — feel as affected as if someone very close to them had died. So many people have been unexpectedly moved to tears.

Why is this? The Queen was on the throne before I was born, and for the vast majority of the lives of everyone alive today. She was a constant in our lives and represented, in Jungian terms, something very significant, akin to what he termed an archetype. She was deeply embedded in our psyches: most of us will have dreamt of having tea with her, even if we did not get the chance to actually do so.

She was a potent symbol of constancy and security amid the changes and chances of this life. Her passing is a sharp reminder that nothing in this life is constant or secure. Her death therefore connects with us at a profound level, bringing our own mortality home to us and resonating painfully with the losses of those we have loved.

The Church and the nation were taken by surprise at the huge outpouring of grief that followed the death of Princess Diana. I think that was to do with the fact that this life cannot hold the hope that is placed in it. That a young, beautiful, rich, glamorous princess could be cut down in her prime demonstrated that very forcibly. The same is true of the hopes of permanence and security in this life which, generally unconsciously, we have placed in the Queen.


THIS is an opportunity for the Church. When asked about the purpose of the Church, I always respond that it is to prepare people for their death. The Queen’s death has demonstrated the inevitability of death — as did the pandemic — to a world that tries to ignore it. What we have to offer as Christians in the face of this stark reality is hope — a hope which stretches beyond this life and into all eternity; hope in a God whose love is stronger than death.

How do we communicate this hope? First and foremost, it seems to me that we are called to draw alongside people in their grief, puzzlement, and anxiety. We can do that, in part, by leaving our churches open for prayer and reflection. Our churches have stood foursquare as symbols of Christian hope for a very long time — in many cases for centuries. We need to reconnect people with the hope of our forebears.

We can also connect with people’s sense of loss of loved ones. Many people are responding on Twitter to the image of Paddington leading the Queen into heaven. Some might deride this as “sub-Christian”, but it demonstrates a reasonable desire to be reunited with loved ones.

We know next to nothing about the nature of the afterlife, any more than we knew in the womb what life in the outside world would be like, but we know that God’s love will hold us and those we love eternally. One of the best funeral sermons I have ever heard used the gathering of 12 baskets of fragments after the feeding of the 5000 (Matthew 14.20) to demonstrate that, in God’s economy, nothing will be wasted.

The scientist turned theologian John Polkinghorne used to observe that it was a perfectly reasonable hope that the patterns of our loves would be held in God. So, the image of Paddington leading the Queen to heaven is not misplaced. It articulates a spark of faith which, with the assistance of God’s Holy Spirit, can be fanned into fullness of faith in the resurrection, which Polkinghorne also felt was a perfectly coherent belief.


I END with a quote from my late wife Denise’s book, published posthumously, A Tour of Bones (Books, 2 January 2015): “Resurrection is a hope that I feel western society has mainly lost. At the very least it is a hope about which we know little, and so about which we hardly dare speak with conviction. . .

“For many people it is the mechanics of resurrection that seems incredible, but strangely enough it is not the question ‘how’ that bothers me. The whole of human history is littered with things that were once deemed impossible. We know so much about matter and energy, but there is also much that we do not yet know and our knowledge is always changing. Five hundred years ago no one imagined light bulbs, or space travel, or genetic engineering. A decade or two ago saying we are made of stardust would have sounded like the stuff of a fairytale, and now it sounds like particle physics. So I do not find it hard to imagine the possibility of a bodily resurrection.”

Dr John Inge is the Bishop of Worcester.

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