1. The quality of being worthy of attention; importance.
2. The meaning to be found in words or events
In Memory of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (1926-2022)
The passing of someone who has been significant in our lives, even when it is expected always comes as a shock. Our world changes as emotions of loss and sadness mix with a sense of unease and uncertainty about the future. As we, who saw in Queen Elizabeth a life to be admired and respected, begin to adjust to the fact that she has gone, we find ourselves being drawn into and somehow bound up in this event of great significance.
How we each respond to her passing is different. Many of us have sought to write our names and messages in the books of condolences. Others leave flowers or go to great lengths to personally participate in the events and ceremonies that mark her passing and celebrate her life of service. None can escape the myriad of documentaries and news programmes filling our TV and mobile screens. I rarely watch the news but over these last days, I have felt compelled to sit and take in these great events glued to the TV screen. Our world is changing. History is being written. I don’t want to miss out.
It is good to participate in occasions like this as they can draw us together, and remind us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. To many, they give a sense of pride in our heritage, our culture, and our national identity. Perhaps, they remind us of events of our own childhood and of family members, now passed on, who shared with us their memories of what they did to celebrate this wedding or that jubilee.
There will be some, however, who will feel the loss more keenly. Not just a sense of personal loss but the loss of someone who represented stability, and gentle strength in uncertain and changing times. Others may see the participants in the events and ceremonies, the leaders, officials, civil and military, and the great crowds watching on and will be aware of their own insignificance in this world. These are things that happen to others and not to us. We are just ordinary and insignificant.
During her long reign, Elizabeth became arguably the most famous person alive. Though her royal powers were limited, her power to influence was huge, and yet she chose instead a life of dutiful service. Duty and service are not words used much these days yet they have been on everyone’s lips since her passing. Often, she also chose to speak of another, much more famous than herself; the son of a king who before her had set aside his power and had chosen a life of service.
Paradoxically this man had lived a very ordinary life. He was the son of a carpenter, who had grown up in a rural backwater of an insignificant country controlled by a hostile power. The ordinary people that knew him and lived alongside him came to recognise that there was a greatness in his humility and that in his life of service there were situations that pointed towards his uncommon power and authority. When he was killed and buried and stood up again alive, the only conclusion they were left with was that he was God himself, who had come to live a life of loving service among them. If Jesus was anything he was the ordinary-made-extraordinary, the insignificant-made-significant. He was and is God, and yet he is also one of us.
When it has all been said and done, we may come to appreciate that significance is perhaps the one thing we all desire more than anything else. As human beings, we need to be seen, to be noticed, to know that we have value and are valued. We all know the hurt of being ignored or passed over for another. Perhaps our hunger for significance, our compulsion to count and to contribute positively to this world comes from something created within us by the God who made us.
Our need to participate, to write our own name in the book, to watch, to see, to be present, perhaps comes from this desire within us. Many will remember the time they met or even spoke with our late queen, a significance added to their lives by the encounter. I remember well the time I saw her, dressed in bright yellow celebrating the centenary of the St John Ambulance Brigade in Hyde Park. But this fades when I compare it to the encounter that I had that same year with the carpenter-king, Jesus. That the God who chose the ordinary and insignificant to enter this world alongside us is incredible enough. That he chooses to reveal himself to us, to me, to meet with us, and to be involved in our ordinary, everyday lives is something far greater. That God chose the ordinary gives us ordinary-people hope. That he chose to live with us, to welcome us all to be citizens in his kingdom, uniquely and individually known and loved, gives us all purpose and significance. We may never be famous, but how good is it to be known and loved by the King.