On Thursday 8th September, after reigning for 70 years, longer than any other British monarch, Queen Elizabeth died. She was an exceptional leader who ruled with grace and humility and who, if the many tributes that have been made by those who have met her are to believed, was somebody who took a genuine interest in others and was always able to put people at ease.
Since her death I have been reminded on countless occasions of the short film the Queen made with Paddington Bear. And rightly so for in it we saw, perhaps, what we found most endearing about her – a monarch who was in touch with her people and who could share a joke with those for whom she cared. Seeing it when it was first shown as part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations it was nothing a genuinely joyous few minutes but now, watching it in light of the Queen’s death, it is a bittersweet experience. The sadness is extenuated by the joy, the joy extenuated by the sadness. It still makes me smile – even though it now moves me to tears.
It serves to remind me that contradictory emotions can be experienced simultaneously. We can not deny the existence of sadness – it’s inevitability is universal – but sorrow is only truly felt because of the joy we have previously known. Equally sadness is a consequence of the temporary nature of happiness. As the Queen herself once said, ‘Grief is the price we pay for love.’
If then we are to be happy, it must be alongside our sadness and we dare not wait for the absence of sorrow before allowing ourselves to be happy. It is not that we can not be happy because we know sadness, nor that we can not be sad because there are things to be happy about. Paradoxically, we can be happy and sad at the same time. We can smile – even as we cry.
Similarly we can have a healthy appreciation of life despite serious ill health. Like the Queen who, at 96 years old, was still fulfilling her duties as monarch two days before she died, we can live well, despite our approaching death. Life is not black or white, it’s a kaleidoscope of grey and we would do well to see the light in the darkness.
One thing that I have in common with the late Queen is my Christian faith. Furthermore, as well as great happiness, both she and I have known sadness in our lives. Sadness is a reality for Christians as much as anyone else. Jesus himself was described as ‘a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’. I don’t doubt He cried out in agony as the nails were driven into his hands and feet, his crucifixion was no less painful for knowing he’d rise from the dead three days later. Likewise, Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, his tears no less anguished for knowing that he would shortly bring his friend back from the dead.
And so our sadness at the Queen’s death is no less real for the happy memories we have of her, and it is no less painful for Christians who share the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. That future joy doesn’t lessen our present sadness any more than our present sadness lessens our future joy. A paradox it may be, but as I’ve already said, we really can be happy and sad at the same time
Equally paradoxically, to really live is not to avoid death for if we live for Christ we will have truly lived, even if we die. Like the Queen I too hold fast to what Jesus said – that eternal life is to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. [John 17:3]. If through Christ we know God, we will have known life in all its fullness, even if we lose all that the world offers. For as Jesus also said, ‘what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?’ [Mark 8:36]
Even so, we need hope. We should of course do all we can to make the world a better place, but it is my belief that high ideals will not be enough. Merely striving for a better tomorrow will not bring it about for, in and of ourselves, we are simply not up to the task. We need a better hope than one that rests on us.
And so, as did the Queen, I turn to Christ for a hope that genuinely sustains me in hard times. For Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, it was the hope of ‘the joy that was set before him’ that sustained him as he ‘endured the cross’ [Hebrews 12:2] and when times are hard for me, I am sustained by my hope that God will keep his promises. Because Christ died for our sins and rose for our justification, we can be certain those promises will be fulfilled.
Even so, what we experience now and what we hope for in the future often stand in contradiction. Our hope is directed at what is not yet visible, and it is our faith in God’s promises that assures us that what he promises for that future he we will surely one day bring about. God’s promises do not always throw light on the reality that exists today, mystery often remains, but they do illuminate the reality that will one day be.
So we need to be reminded again of some of those promises.
Though the grief remains, there is a day coming when the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise [Thessalonians 4:16].
There is a day coming when what is sown perishable, will be raised imperishable; what is sown in dishonour, will be raised in glory and what is sown in weakness will be raised in power [1 Corinthians 15:42-43].
There is a day coming when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away [Revelation 21:4]
God is sovereign and reigns supreme. The battle has been won, Satan is defeated. That, despite the suffering and sadness we experience today, remains the gospel, the good news that we find all the way through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.
Though I never met the Queen, I’ll miss her now she’s gone. But like her I am confident that there is a new heaven and a new earth coming, which is far better than anything any of us have ever known or imagined. As it now is for the Queen, so it will be for us – for the best is yet to come.
But until then I’ll endeavour to remain happy in my sadness even as I’m sad in my happiness. And I’ll look forward to the day when I, like Paddington, may perhaps be fortunate enough to spend time with the Queen whilst enjoying a cup of tea and a marmalade sandwich!
To read ‘Obituary: Queen Elizabeth II, Beacon of Grace’, by Mark Greene, click here. It goes into more detail of how her faith influenced the way she lived and reigned. It’s well worth a read.
Other, far less erudite blogs:
To read ‘The Queen who has a King’, click here
To read “Hope comes from believing the promises of God”, click here
To read ‘An Audience with Grief’, click here
To read ‘Real Power’, click here
To read ‘The “Already” and the “Not Yet”’, click here