Those who serve “will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privilege are long forgotten,” said Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his homily at the Queen’s funeral.
The service took place under the magnificent Gothic arches of Westminster Abbey, the site of the coronation in 1953 and Elizabeth’s wedding in 1947.
The powerful liturgy and rituals of the Church of England – an established church since the 16th century but increasingly marginalized in everyday life – were at the heart of the ceremony, watched by billions of people around the world.
However, respecting the multi-religious, multicultural nature of modern society, representatives of other religions and Christian traditions were also given a place in the procession.
Welby’s address to the community at Westminster Abbey and to a global audience beyond focused on eternal life after death, the central message of traditional Christian funerals.
The service is taken from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the official prayer book of the C of E, known for its beautiful and archaic language, but largely supplanted in recent decades by those seeking a more modern style of worship.
The Queen was said to have been dedicated to the Book of Common Prayer, along with hymns and readings personally chosen by the monarch for her funeral.
Welby began his short sermon, which came almost halfway through the hour-long service, with the words: “The pattern for many leaders is to be exalted in life and forgotten in death.”
He continued: “The pattern for all who serve God—famous or obscure, revered or ignored—is that death is the gateway to glory.”
The Archbishop recalled the Queen’s promise on her 21st birthday to dedicate her life to service. “Rarely has such a promise been kept so well. Few leaders receive such an outpouring of love as we have seen.”
Addressing the 2,000-strong congregation, which included royalty, world leaders and members of the British establishment, he said: “People who serve with love are rare in any social life. Loving service leaders are even rarer. But in all cases those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privilege are long forgotten.”
Her family “grieved like any family at a funeral… but in this family’s case, they did it under the brightest of spotlights. May God heal their sorrow, may the emptiness in their lives be marked by memories of joy and life.”
Welby ended his sermon by echoing the Queen’s words in her address to the nation over the Covid pandemic. “We will meet again” were words of hope, he said.
“We will all face the merciful judgment of God: we can all share the Queen’s hope which in life and death inspired her leadership as a servant. Service in life, hope in death. Everyone who follows the queen’s example, an inspiration of trust and faith in God, can say with her: ‘We will meet again’.”
The procession that opened the service included representatives of the faith, led by Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Jain and Bahá’í communities were also represented.
Church leaders from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland joined those from various Christian traditions in England, including the Roman Catholic Church and black-majority Pentecostal churches.
The all-male choir of Westminster Abbey, one of the few Anglican cathedrals in England that did not have female singers, sang psalms and hymns.
Lines of scripture sung during the casket procession included: “We brought nothing into this world and it is certain that we can take nothing out. The Lord gave, the Lord took; blessed be the name of the Lord.”