I wonder which person you see yourself as in the readings today. Are you a righteous person? Or are you a sinner? The good news that we read in our scriptures is that it doesn’t matter which one we think we are, God rejoices in finding the lost. The parable Jesus tells points us to the fact that, no matter what, God pursues us. Why? Because he loves us and longs for us. This was a truth Queen Elizabeth II knew very well, with her oft-declared faith in the person of Jesus Christ. As I was reflecting on these passages, the Queen’s Christmas broadcasts came to mind. I was particularly struck by something she said just a few years ago:
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.
Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.
It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the love of God through Christ our Lord.
(Queen Elizabeth II, Christmas Broadcast 2015)
The really good news for us today is that the love Queen Elizabeth II spoke of at Christmas in 2015 is the same love we are invited into in our readings today. It isn’t just for Christmas, but for all time. First, we hear of the shepherd, leaving the 99 sheep in the field to chase after and bring home the 1 lost sheep. Then, we hear of the woman who furiously cleans her house because she has lost 1 of her precious 10 coins. When they find their precious lost sheep and coin, both shepherd and woman rejoice.
This is the gospel. The good news. We are all sinners, as Paul says, each of us imperfect – even the Queen. This might not sound like good news, but it doesn’t stop there. Jesus’ parables don’t stop with us all remaining lost, rather we are pursued, found and rejoiced in. This is a love that knows no bounds.
This is the gospel, then. We are all sinners… but… Jesus.
We are all sinners, but… Jesus seeks us out.
We are all sinners, but… Jesus pursues us.
We are all sinners, but… Jesus loves us. He rejoices in us.
This is the love which Queen Elizabeth II so often spoke of. This week, though, it was with deep sorrow that Buckingham Palace announced the death of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday evening. Whether expected, or not, death – whenever it comes and however it comes – is always interruptive, indiscriminate and painful. It takes us by surprise, somehow, and unflinchingly unmasks the lie that we can and will live forever.
Whatever you think of the place of the Royal Family in our national life, there is – at the centre of what has happened here – a human being like any other, and a family coming to terms with a deep loss, in the midst of their heartache and grief. A family who will find it incredibly difficult to reimagine the landscape of their shared life without their beloved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
As for the Queen herself: what a remarkable life, characterised by love, loyalty, and service to country, and to those she loved so deeply. She leaves an enormous legacy behind her.
Yet death cannot and does not have the final word. As Christians, we believe this to be trustworthy and true, for we are an Easter people. Jesus Christ has gone ahead of us in both life and death, and it is his resurrection from the dead that is the basis of our confidence that love bears all and that love conquers all. Love is the light we bear to a broken world and love is the very richest legacy that we leave behind us.
One of my favourite television programmes is Call the Midwife, not just because of the brilliant social commentary through the 20th Century, but also for its beautiful reflections on the Christian faith. It’s the sort of programme I can just imagine Queen Elizabeth II probably loved. In one episode, one of the religious order reflects, “For just as the swan’s last song is the sweetest of its life, so loss is made endurable by love, and it is love that will echo through eternity.”
It is for her life of steadfast love and service, we give thanks to God for Queen Elizabeth II today. But we also think today of St Luke, and St Paul, and countless other faithful servants who have gone before us. All imperfect and fallible human beings, transformed and redeemed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Queen’s prayer was that we might all find room in our hearts and lives for the love of God through Jesus Christ.
My prayer for each of us is that the gospel of LOVE that inspired Queen Elizabeth II and that she lived by might inspire each of us to commit ourselves to a life of faithful service… a life lived with the love of Jesus and love for other at the centre, both now and in the years to come.