What was astonishing about the funeral services was that in form and content they were thoroughly Christian, in a way that was strange and surprising. Afterall, we live in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-coloured society with many religions and a rich variety of allegiances. Why should prominence, on a national occasion such as this, be given to one? Why should the Christian religion have pre-eminence? Was this archaic pomp and pageantry not something that we thought we had left behind and progressed beyond, an aberration, an anachronism? Where were the creative minds who could design something more appropriate and apposite to the spirit of our age?
We can only surmise that this was deliberate. In all the services, as far as I was aware, there was no nod or reference to other faiths or no-faiths or supra-faiths, the kind of thing we have grown to expect. I suspect that this was not down to the clergy who sometimes seem to be mildly apologetic about what they were saying or reading. You can never be sure when someone is reading from a script and hardly glancing above the lectern if they actually believe what they are saying. This is another conundrum, given this single and unique opportunity to declare the radical gospel of Jesus Christ, to possibly the biggest audience ever, something Billy Graham could never dream of, the, established church declared its allegiance, not to Christ, but to the establishment. As someone has said “The established church never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.
From what we understand, the tone and content and even detail of the service may well have been a specific request by the late Queen. It was maybe exactly what she wanted. Being relatively shy and modest about her faith in life she wanted to say, in death, what she truly believed.
What made it thoroughly Christian was not the homilies and tributes but the words, the scripture, the hymns and the psalms transported on the melodies and harmonies of some of our greatest composers from the lyrical singing of the Gaelic psalm to James Macmillan’s magnificent “Who shall separate us”. There was nothing faintly apologetic or reticent about them. In the hymns we had “All my hope on God is founded” exposing the vanity of human pride and the futility of earthly glory “Sword and crown betray his trust”. In the setting there was a lot of swords, as we were to see, and crowns too. There was the challenge to all people “that on earth do dwell” to “sing to the Lord with cheerful voice” and to everyone “Christ calls one and all to follow”. There was the prayer for the kindling of the desire to “work and speak and think for thee” and there was the assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God death nor life…and that “Goodness and mercy all my life, shall surely follow me/and in Gods house forevermore my dwelling place shall be”
There was a strange irony in all of this with the serried ranks of scarlet soldiers white hatted sailors, feathers and plumes, the world leaders in sombre black and the baubles looking very much trinkets but carrying the weighty symbolism of power and authority in the stupendous setting of the fan vaulted abbey. I wonder if the irony was lost on the congregation of the “Great and the Good” if the significance of the orb with its declaration that Christ is King of kings and Lord of Lords was understood or if they listened to themselves sing “Tower and temple fall to dust”
Now I don’t know, but I suspect there was nothing contradictory or conflicting in the Queens own mind as she accepted the passing of her own life, and in the final verse of the final hymn “Till in heaven we take our place/till we lay our crowns before you/lost in wonder, love and praise.” For her it all made sense she was simply a servant, and a subject of her lord. there was no contradiction in that. And there was nothing conflicting in showing the deepest respect love, kindness and genuine care for all of her subjects, whatever god they may worship, welcoming them wholeheartedly, while, at the same time, declaring without embarrassment or compromise what she believed was the true faith, the faith she had vowed to defend.