Queen Elizabeth’s funeral is tomorrow. I can’t think of anything in my life that compares to what we’ve witnessed in the week and a half since her passing. (But then again, I can think of anyone who served in a position for 70 years). The only thing that I thought might come close was in the days following President Kennedy’s assassination, but I looked it up and his funeral took place just three days after his death, so there’s really no basis for comparison.
Friday night the queue was five miles long and you would be in line twenty-four hours before you would have the chance to walk by the casket. Temperatures had been dropping into the single digits at night, yet the people continued to come. How do you explain people standing in line for a day under these conditions in order to have a moment to pay their respects?
It was C. S. Lewis who said,
You don’t have to embrace the monarchy to appreciate it. I take Lewis words to mean something to the effect of how honoring an earthly king (or queen) can help us to honor the King of Kings. And the converse is, when we don’t, we devolve to honor much lesser things. (His comments are remarkably prescient of 21st century American culture, don’t you think?).
So why did they come? I don’t think they came because everyone believed in everything the Queen had ever done. I don’t think they came because they agreed with everything the monarchy represented. I think they came because they wanted to honor the sacrifice of a woman who had loved them and served them for seventy years. They wanted to honor someone who had worked with 15 prime ministers, had traveled over a million miles on trips to over 100 countries, lived through wars, political and economic cycles, social and moral change, and remained the same, steady person of integrity she had always been. She was married to the same man for almost 74 years.
They came and waited long hours to pay their respects because Queen Elizabeth had been a solid, constant presence in their lives. There’s something to be said for that of anyone, but when it’s someone who is a leader, it is exponentially important.
On April 21, 1947, Elizabeth celebrated her twenty-first birthday in Cape Town, South Africa. She was there with her family on an official state visit. She used the occasion to speak to through a radio broadcast. At the conclusion of her message, she made this promise:
And that is exactly what she did!