7th October 2022

During the last few weeks it has been impossible to avoid the subject of death, hitherto rather a taboo subject, but the Queen’s death after years of outstanding service has forced it onto the public agenda, reinforced by the remarkable desire across the nation to mourn a long life so well lived. The speed with which her majesty completed her earthly pilgrimage was quite remarkable – appointing a new prime minister one day and then death so suddenly thereafter.

I cannot help comparing it with my 97 year-old sister-in-law who with severe dementia has spent years in a care home. I am glad the queen left this world so circumspectly. Indeed that is the way I would like to go, and the way I wish my loved ones should depart. There is a hymn we used to sing which concluded: ‘Until death’s holy sleep / shall me remove to that fair realm where sin and sorrow o’er, / Thou and Thine own are one for evermore.’ Anyone within earshot of my father singing would hear him substituting rather defiantly the word ‘final’ for ‘holy’, for he only saw death as the consequence of sin.

But can death be holy? – especially for the believer committed to the belief that death is in fact a time of reunion, a coming home, ‘absent from the body, present with the Lord’. ‘Today’, says Jesus to the dying thief, ‘You will be with me in Paradise’. This is why in the reformed faith we do not normally pray for the dead – for our belief is that faith already has its reward.

But clearly not all death is holy – so I contrast the Queen’s death with the 125 people crushed to death in the Indonesian football stadium this week, young lives cut short by thoughtless action, or the tragic death of the 30-year old Afghan refugee, so caring of others, who tried to escape from a fire on the 16th floor of a tower block in Easton, here in Bristol last weekend, but tragically fell to his death. Apparently there were no sprinklers and the fire brigade ladders would only stretch to the ninth floor: surely unholy deaths, as are the casualties on both sides in Ukraine. Good Lord, forgive all who sin against your precious chuildren.

John Briggs