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“…a time for every matter under heaven”

By the Reverend Phil Wales

A small assortment of long-cherished objects has taken on an additional poignancy for me during this time of mourning for our late Queen. These mementos have no monetary value and yet their intrinsic worth is beyond price.  

The first is a black and white photograph of my father and me (as a toddler perched on my father’s shoulders) in a large crowd waving to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother who visited my hometown in the 1960s. The second is a letter from Buckingham Palace sent to me and my fellow primary school classmates. The Queen graciously thanked us for a letter and drawings which we had sent to her. We were a very curious set of pupils and we wanted to find out whether Buckingham Palace had moving escalators [as well as grand staircases!]. The third is a well-worn wooden school ruler. On the reverse side is a list of British Monarchs from King William I onwards. Each of one of these things, in its own small way, whispers of the constancy of the Queen throughout my life. Like so many others, until this week, I have never known another Monarch.

Countless millions in Britain and throughout the world will be sharing their own stories of their connection, their relationship, with the late Queen. These stories give voice to our emotions; joy, sadness, pain, humour, affection, thankfulness and so much more. As well as our collective mourning our feelings may also find expression through private acts of remembrance. For example, looking back through photo albums or seeking out a treasured keepsake. In whichever way we remember, it is right to give time to our feelings because, well, our feelings simply need proper time to be given to them.  

We need time to absorb the reality of the Queen’s death and what this means. Naturally this time of adjustment, of grieving, will continue for the Queen’s family and those closest to her long after her funeral. The Queen knew this well; that for everything there is a time. The book of Ecclesiastes includes the following verses:

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance;

a time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, 4-5).

At first sight these pairings may seem random. But read in their proper context, in the book of Ecclesiastes, we discover that the ordering of all life is subject to God’s, not human, sovereignty. But this does not mean, for Christians, that ‘change is the only constant’. Rather, that faith in Jesus reveals more profound truths which shape our lives through knowing that we are held in the constancy of God’s love come what may. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13.8). Through Christ we come to know that God Himself is unchanging and that His love for all that he has created is eternal.  

In God’s time to come we shall each pass through this life into the world beyond. And God will be there to meet us in Christ, His Son. This is the faith which Queen Elizabeth lived out so gracefully in her life and reign. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

Gracious God, we give thanks

for the life of your servant Queen Elizabeth,

for her faith and her dedication to duty.

Bless our nation as we mourn her death

and may her example continue to inspire us;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.