She lived her life in service to God and country. Her death brought a solemn moment to reflect on the sacred. Elizabeth II was a monarch for the ages. What lessons can we learn from her faith?
For 11 days last September, 2022, the world turned its attention to Great Britain to watch the pageantry of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. As only the British can do, the state produced a display of regal majesty, a “pomp and circumstance” long in the preparing (and planned by the queen long before her passing).
Crowds of people watched her body proceed from Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where she died, to London where she lay in state at Westminster Hall. The turnout put to rest the questions of the value of the Crown to life in the kingdom. She was loved and respected, as shown by the thousands who came to return a small measure of the service she rendered for their benefit.
The days leading to her funeral gave opportunity to reflect on a long life and reign. The Queen embodied certain values in her life—values we would do well to consider in light of many Bible passages that tell us we as Christians will one day sit with Jesus Christ on a throne judging the nations under His rule.
The Bible clearly shows that the saints, Christ's followers of this age, will then reign with Him on earth. It is a key truth of Scripture that is little understood. Jesus told His apostles, “I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:29-30).
A broader promise in this regard is given to all the saints in Revelation 20:4-6: “And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them . . . And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years . . . Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection . . . they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” Many more scriptures confirm this truth.
Looking at the life of Queen Elizabeth II gives us a moment to think about qualities within our reach in this life and practical principles that prepare us for the life to come.
Let’s first consider the Queen was the titular head of the Church of England. One of her titles was “Defender of the Faith.” By all accounts she was a person of deep faith.
As I watched her funeral service in Westminster Abbey, I was struck at the scriptures she chose to have read. It seemed as if in her death she witnessed to the world about God. The order of service began with two readings, the first from John 11:25–26: “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (King James Version).
The next passage, from Job 19:25-27, begins, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth” and also focuses on the resurrection of the dead.
Prime Minister Liz Truss read the words of John 14:1-9, which include Jesus saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (KJV).
This was not an ecumenical service meant to appeal to the assembled dignitaries representing many faiths and none at all. This was a display of Scripture, readings and songs meant to say, “This is what I believe.”
Elizabeth’s life was caught up in the British monarchy, which in turn is intertwined with the Christian faith. The Bible is read at the monarch’s coronation. The Queen made an oath to God to serve and carry out her role.
Modern people do not like the idea of a monarch because of this. It reminds them of God, the Bible and of something absolute and immutable. Elizabeth rode above politics and the changing times. So many said that with her death an era where values meant something also finally died.
Service to others
When King George VI died in 1952, Elizabeth assumed the role of queen. On her 21st birthday Elizabeth had pledged: “My whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
She kept her promise. For the next seven decades, she worked almost every day. She traveled to many nations doing what a modern monarch does. She opened schools and libraries. She stood and greeted countless strangers for hours. She did it all with grace and joy.
While the queen lived in palaces and had a large staff and household servants to serve her, with a life far easier in many respects than what most people face, we should step back and remember that she was still human with all the pulls and pressures common to us all—and that wealth and privilege actually magnify some problems, especially in terms of maintaining good character. Like everyone, she loved and was unloved. She laughed and cried. She rejoiced and sorrowed. She was loyal and suffered betrayal. As she looked at the world through the palace windows, did she ever wish she could live the normal life of a shopkeeper, teacher and ordinary mother?
Early on she knew hers was a different life. But she was determined to serve within that life. During World War II she volunteered as a car mechanic and rolled up her sleeves to do the dirty work. She and her family stayed in England, not taking refuge in Canada. Given their high profile, it was a grave risk they measured and took.
As grand as her life was, Elizabeth was concerned about maintaining the type of serving attitude taught by Jesus. When His disciples argued among themselves about who would be the greatest, He said, “The kings of the Gentiles [or nations] exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves” (Luke 22:25-26).
Christ said the greatest would serve. Elizabeth strove to serve and set a right example according to what she understood. Such focus should be celebrated!
Commitment to responsibilities
The Queen served more than 75 years on the job. She pledged that her whole life, “whether . . . long or short,” would be devoted to service. Such a promise takes commitment—the type of commitment taught by Jesus when He said that no one who comes to Him while looking backward to his old life is fit for God’s Kingdom (Luke 9:62).
Think about this: Elizabeth did not go back on her commitment. Her parents were Edwardians—think Downton Abbey, a different world than ours. She was raised in that environment. Her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne. He rejected the committed life for a frivolous lifestyle. Elizabeth became queen because one man did not live up to his commitment. She knew she had to commit to the end to preserve the monarchy.
At her coronation she was anointed with these words: “Be thy hands anointed with holy oil. Be thy breast anointed with holy oil. Be thy Head anointed with holy oil, as kings, priests and prophets were anointed. And as Solomon was anointed king by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet, so be you anointed, blessed and consecrated Queen over the peoples, whom the Lord your God hath given you to rule and govern . . .”
This was done at the most solemn moment of the coronation, a golden canopy hiding this part of the service from the sight of the crowd. She was set aside for a special role, and she understood that. She was committed to this. She never turned from that commitment. She cared deeply about her land and her people and did whatever she could for their benefit. People today could learn a lot from her example!
Duty to God and country
Duty is doing something you ought that you’d rather not do—not because someone makes you, but because it needs to be done and there’s no better candidate than yourself, so you do it. Duty involves going about your work without complaint. It means knowing your role and carrying it out well. And duty is remaining consistent, day after day, year after year, for a lifetime.
Being Queen was not without difficulties, but Elizabeth’s mantra was famously, “Never complain, never explain.” She never allowed her personal feelings to get in the way of the job. Elizabeth learned from her father’s example. He was not prepared for the role of king but had to assume it when his brother quit. Her duty came from the depth of character learned at a young age.
In Queen Elizabeth II the world had a living witness of a woman who strove to maintain high character. Character is about duty and following through on a commitment.
A poignant scene took place after the funeral at the internment. Just before the Queen’s coffin was lowered into the crypt, the crown, orb and scepter were removed from her coffin and placed on the church’s altar. But not the wooden Wand of Office representing her authority. The Lord Chamberlin broke it and placed the two pieces on the coffin. Her earthly reign was over. She went into the ground as a commoner.
All who are truly God’s servants today are preparing for a spiritual crown of life. If we continue to live a life of service, commitment and duty with His help, when we go into the ground we can be assured that a crown and a throne will await us at the resurrection!