Reading Philippians 2:1-11
Imitating Christ’s Humility
2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Reflection on the life of Queen Elizabeth II (Philippians 2:1-11)
What do you remember – a fleeting wave in a motor cade? Her vitality at the races? Her immense dignity at a state occasion, or the cup of tea with Paddington? What do you remember?
When I looked at the live tracker yesterday evening for queuing to pay respects in Westminster Hall, it said that the waiting time would be up to 12 ½ hours. People in the queue are literally from the 4 corners of the earth. I suspect that no other single person could attract such a queue of waiting mourners. Standing shoulder to shoulder in that queue there are mourners representing all political divides, people of all faiths and none, ordinary common people alongside celebrities, and even those for whom the monarchy is a complete waste of time and money. All of them have turned up to say, in the words of Paddington bear, “Thank you ma’am”.
So why do billions of people have an interest in her Majesty’s life and death? The reason why we are so gripped by Elizabeth is because servant leadership is a gift and calling from Almighty God, whilst rare among many, it is so beautiful, unifying, and it builds us all up in love.
This time of international mourning is a great gift from God, and a chance to renew to seek Christ and to serve one another – loving our neighbours as ourselves. In so doing we are united with the values of our late Majesty, but also and more importantly with our saviour who came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.
The bible teaches us that God engraved his laws into every person whether or not they realise it. This is why our hearts are touched and drawn towards the service of others. This is the way God wants it to be. That is what is happening as we watch all of this enfold, and once again it is a moment in history where all of us have the opportunity to think about how we conduct ourselves with others.
In Northern Ireland we live in a deeply divided society, and yet the icing on the cake is how her late Majesty was such a model of how each of us can serve one another without being political. Not one of us will ever forget the handshake between the sovereign and the late Martin McGuinness. How deep the hurt it must have been and yet how great the cause to love and forgive.
As we consider today’s society and in particular our politics, how can we be faithful and dutiful without all the self-interest that so often clouds so called public service. Our world has become more self-seeking. And yet as we reflect of the late Queen, the words of Paul’s letter to the Philippians day seem to speak of her, “in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others”.
But if we stop by simply commending her Majesty’s works, we will miss what fuelled all of this, namely her faith in and relationship with the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords, our saviour Jesus Christ. Paul in his other letter to the Galatians wrote that the fruit of God’s Spirit is ‘Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’. Her late Majesty had those fruits dwelling within her for all to see.
On Christmas Day 1939, the United Kingdom faced incredible trials. Elizabeth’s father was about to address the nation. The country was facing the risk of losing millions of soldiers. And so King George chose to read a poem which was given to him by his then 13 year old daughter, Elizabeth. These are her words from the poem written by the late Minnie Haskins, “And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
Our late Majesty at a point in her life put her hand into the hand of God to lead her safely into her future. Why not do the same.
So let the last words be hers tonight – she understood the Gospel of Jesus Christ at its most foundational level. In her 2011 Christmas address she said “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive”.
The Queen although dead, is more alive than ever, kneeling before her King. Her example as the Queen who served her people, but more than that – Her King, sets all of us an example of how we should conduct our lives to those not only who we love, but also to the many who we find hard to love.