Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury sermon on the crown funeral queen westminister abbey
Mission

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Sermon on the Crown

The funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was always going to be a major televised event, and whoever preached the sermon at Westminster Abbey was always going to be gifted with the most awesome mission – quite literally – to somehow channel planetary grief and infuse it with the cosmic message of hope in Christ, which was the foundation of her life.

And it was down to the Archbishop of Canterbury to deliver. “It was the honour of a lifetime, and among its saddest moments, to preach at the State Funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, whose hope and faith in Jesus Christ inspired her servant leadership”, he tweeted.

And Her Majesty’s servanthood was his theme.

This was his theme because servanthood was her witness to the world. She was good, and she was kind. She was dignified, and she was caring. She could sit down with all the princes, presidents, potentates, popes and prime ministers in the world, and at the same time help a humble soldier feed her dogs under the table, to help him cope with his grief and distress. She could weep with those who weep, if only in private. She knew that faith, hope and love are the Christian mission and vocation in the world, and she understood that the greatest of these is love.

She had chosen every hymn and anthem for her funeral, and the readings were in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer (1662). In fact, she had organised, controlled and approved every jot and tittle – everything, that is, except what the Archbishop of Canterbury would say. The sermon was entirely his, though he had been guided, if not hemmed in by the BCP’s 1 Corinthians 15 – ‘O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?‘; and the Queen’s choice of John 14 – ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

And so Justin Welby anointed with balm the sting of death, and told an estimated 4.1 billion people of the love that is to be found in Christ Jesus, in whose service Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had lived her life, and at whose feet she has now laid the burden of her crown.

The invocation of the Holy Spirit was followed a sermon on the Crown; a crown maintained not by sword or might, but by humility, service and love. “The pattern for many leaders is to be exalted in life and forgotten after death,” the Archbishop said. “The pattern for all who serve God – famous or obscure, respected or ignored – is that death is the door to glory,” he contrasted. And then he proclaimed to the assembled congregation and global audience that Jesus is ‘the way, the truth and the life‘; and that he ‘came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many‘.

It was brave to tell 500 world leaders, dignitaries and gathered royalty that their power is ephemeral, that their palaces and crowns count for nothing in eternity, and all that will endure of their earthly status and political success is the love they give. “People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer,” the Archbishop continued. “But in all cases those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten.”

It was not a sermon on the Crown of majesty, sovereignty or supremacy, but a sermon on the Crown of humility, guidance, and divine protection.

Christ rose from the dead and offers life to all, abundant life now and life with God in eternity,’ the Archbishop declared, just as Her late Majesty had done so often, especially in her more recent Christmas broadcasts. And then he invoked Dame Vera Lynn: “We will meet again,” he assured the mourning and grieving, which must have jarred somewhat with the dogmatic secular rationality and materialism of the age. But the Queen understood that secular rationality needs the illumination of divine revelation; that faith and love need hope, and that “Christian hope means certain expectation of something not yet seen.”

And then the Archbishop spoke of God’s judgment, and alluded to the final separation of the sheep and the goats:

We will all face the merciful judgement of God: we can all share the Queen’s hope which in life and death inspired her servant leadership.

Service in life, hope in death. All who follow the Queen’s example, and inspiration of trust and faith in God, can with her say: “We will meet again.”

God’s judgment is merciful, but only those who obey Him will be called to enter His Kingdom. How many archbishops of Canterbury have had the chance to preach to 4.1 billion people of the fact that God is constantly watching us, and that Jesus is the way to salvation? How many could have done it with such passion, conviction, clarity, and succinct eloquence? Don’t just read his words, or even these words. Listen for yourself:

 

Thank you, and God bless you, Justin Welby, for your Sermon on the Crown. Her Majesty would have been proud of your faithful Christian witness, and of your faithfulness to her Christian witness by which the whole world has been blessed.