Here is the text of a sermon I gave to The Ordinary Office community on Sunday 18th September 2022 about grief.
We are surrounded by it at the moment. The very public grief of the royal family as they have lost their matriarch. For many of us, our own grief at the loss of the Queen, a constant in our lives. For others of us, we may have personal griefs we are trying to hold while we are surrounded by wall to wall ritual, rites and memorials. Patients on palliative care pathways reminded of what is to come for their loved ones as they face their own end of life journeys. We know grief is powerful, for even Jesus wept in the presence of Lazarus’ tomb. The world is so very heavy right now.
Grief comes in many forms. For example, over the summer I managed to get back to my hometown, and the beach I grew up by. Getting my toes back in the sand was heavenly. Realising I could only get a few metres onto the sand before it was too much, was crushing. I had to sit and watch from a distance as my family collected shells, plodged in the surf and enjoyed their freedom. I have learned to value what I have; dozing on the sand hearing the waves and feeling the breeze on my face was blissful. But oh what I would have given to get my feet in the water. My overriding emotion that day was grief.
Sometimes we hold our own personal grief. Sometimes, it is shared. On Monday as we witness the State Funeral of the Queen, there will be much shared grief. But we also recognise the grief of those who have had appointments cancelled. The grief of those who have lost income when their bank accounts are already worryingly low. The grief of those who are completely overwhelmed by the upheaval in the world and just needed the day to be routine – yet business are closed, carers are absent and they sense tension in the atmosphere. Perhaps not comparable to the grief of losing a Queen. But to someone whose world consists of their immediate sensory experience, who has no concept of a Queen let alone who she was, the disruption and desperateness is not comparable at all.
It is 70 years since the last death of a monarch in Britain. Since that time we understand so much more about grieving. About inclusion, trauma. About human contact, such as holding a loved ones hand through their hardest of days. Why, I wonder, has Operation London Bridge not taken such developments into account. As King Charles has been under intense pressure, travelling the UK, scrutinised over pens and had his demeanour analysed, should he not be curled up under the duvet with Camilla sorting him out hot chocolates and rubbing his feet while they binge watch the latest Bridgerton? My last bout of grief, I spent a week playing Little Alchemy 2 and getting up to 625 items from the basic 4. No regrets – although I haven’t touched it since. And I certainly wasn’t in a fit state to be doing the household admin, let alone conduct matters of state importance.
For some the collective expression of grief has been helpful. The pilgrimage-like scenes we have witnessed as people queue to see the Queen’s coffin have been incredible. For others, it has all been too much, and that must be respected too. We can learn from the experiences which differ from our own. For those who saw the Queen as proactive in oppression and colonialism, we should listen to their voices and seek to understand. If the treatment of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex isn’t enough evidence systemic racism is embedded throughout the fabric of our country, I don’t know what is. A person’s life is never made of a single thread, but woven with multiple strands.
Wherever you personally sit on the scale of grief, be it overwhelmed with emotion or barely interested, be it related to Queen Elizabeth or something else. Know that you are not alone. This is where the strength of collective expressions of grief come into play. When we all pause together, as we have the opportunity to do on Monday, we can reflect on the Queen’s life, our own lives and anything else on our hearts. Dave and I will be around on Twitter should you need us. I would encourage you to take the opportunity on Monday to be with others, or to be with God, in contemplation and reflection. Sit with your emotions, if It feels safe and appropriate to do so. You may want to visit the place which eases your soul, spend some time in nature or contemplating an image of beauty. Because the flip side of grief, of course, is joy.
We have made no secret that Dave and I have had tough paths to walk in our journey recently. Joy has felt distant recently. Yet The Ordinary Office brings us joy. Sharing with you all brings us joy. I spend far too much time stuck on this sofa nowadays, but the birds I can watch out of my window bring me joy. Listening to the weather changing. The trains coming past. Seeing the silly things my cats do. I have learned to intentionally seek the joy within the grief. Focus on what I can see which cheers me instead of what I have lost which grieves me. It is a discipline, it is hard and it is not to be flippantly expected of everyone as a life lesson. I don’t always manage it. But I intentionally seek to.
So, as we enter this next week of official mourning, all that comes with it, and with many members of our community having different feelings about it, let us be intentional about seeking joy. Strange advice maybe. But let us take joy in the crispness of the music our exceptional musicians are delivering ceremony after ceremony – highlighting the importance of arts education in our schools. Let us take joy in the small steps of progress towards equality and inclusivity we do see, with women in previously men only spaces. Let us take joy in the outpourings of love outweighing the outpourings of hate.
Let us remember that grief exists because we loved in the first place. In verse 22 of our gospel reading Jesus says ‘Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.’ Joy honours that love just as much as grief does. God doesn’t promise us a life free of grief. But they do promise us a life filled with joy. I wish you more joy in your life today, and always.
Peace be with you.