On the Death of Queen Elizabeth II – a BBC Pause for Thought

Here’s the text for the15 September 2022 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Breakfast Show with Zoe Ball on BBC Radio 2. Listen here.

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I commuted to London for the first year of my job and was looking for a place to sleep a few nights a week. A vicar friend generously offered me the second bedroom in his flat, in the church he serves as a priest, and that’s how I found myself living in Westminster Abbey. 

Being a guest in that heavenly place was a gift I’d done nothing to deserve. I pinched myself every night walking through the cloisters ­– or in the morning, sneaking through the garden after a run along the Thames.

What I remember most is all the gravestones you’re constantly walking over. From Geoffrey Chaucer to Elizabeth I to Stephen Hawking, 800 years of death and life, 3000 memorials to artists and kings, unknown soldiers and medieval monks, and my favourite? An ordinary 18th-century plumber called Philip who must’ve kept the abbey pipes working well.

Treading all those stones, all those ashes and bones, was a daily walk along the threshold between this world and the next.

This week of course I’ve been thinking of Queen Elizabeth II, whose body will soon be carried over those same stones. On a path all of us will take – someday, in some place – through the doorway between now and the mystery of what’s to come.

I’m an American who became a British dual-citizen only three months ago. The monarchy is a new experience for me – one that I respect but am still getting my head around. So mourning Her Late Majesty feels different for me than for many others who’ve known her as Queen their entire lives.

But I do know what it’s like to mourn a grandmother. In 2014, my family stood on the shore of the lake where my grandma, Carol, lived and died – a place she loved, where we grew up swimming, sharing meals, celebrating Christmas, being loved by her. At her funeral, we cast her ashes into the waves of that lake – less historic than Westminster Abbey but just as holy. And we entrusted her into the hope of that other shore.

As a Christian, I believe God doesn’t watch our grief from a distance but personally feels our pain – because God has gone through death, too. And because of that, God is able to hold the door open for all of us when our time comes. Whether we’re queens or grandmas, plumbers or ordinary punters like me, I believe we’re welcomed as guests into the heavenly home – not because we deserve it, not because of our merit or bloodline, but simply because we are God’s own beloved, forever.

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