As my friends know, I am a die-hard Anglophile. To quote Dr. Frasier Crane, “There’s no greater Anglophile than I. I have all my suits made at Savile Row. I spell ‘colour’ with a ‘u!’.” To that end, it should not surprise you that I made sure that I watched today’s address of Her Britannic Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, to the people of Great Britain. With the exception of her annual Christmas address, this is one of only five times that The Queen has addressed the nation.
As she began her address, I was hoping that Her Majesty would give us some sort of “pep talk”, perhaps sharing with all of us a sense of fear and worry, or even how the Coronavirus pandemic has hit close to home with the positive diagnosis of her son, the Prince of Wales. Alas, I was disappointed. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I was “underwhelmed”. However, my feelings took a turn toward the end of the address when she spoke about her very first broadcast in 1940 (before she acceded the throne), at a time when the world was dealing with another great crisis: the Second World War:
We, as children, spoke from here at Windsor to children who had been evacuated from their homes and sent away for their own safety.
Today, once again, many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones. But now, as then, we know, deep down, that it is the right thing to do.
The Queen has witnessed much in her long life: war, peace, tragedy, joy. She is a woman borne by duty to serve her people. Her speech was never meant to be a pep talk. Rather, its purpose was to instill in us the instinct that we must “Keep calm and carry on” because the situation will improve. As she concluded her address, Her Majesty said:
We will succeed – and that success will belong to every one of us.
We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.
I suspect that it was no mere coincidence that this address was given at the beginning of Holy Week, a time when Christians throughout the world recall the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For so many of us who practice the Christian faith, we have been forced this year to observe Holy Week in a different way. The calendar and the journey remain the same, but our practice and devotions are different. We cannot gather in church as a community. I must admit that this is very unsettling for me, especially as somebody who is so deeply involved in the preparation and execution of the liturgies of Holy Week. I want to be doing something, but I can’t. I am experiencing that painful sense of separation that The Queen spoke about, but I know, “deep down, that [staying home] is the right thing to do.”
Earlier today, I read a sermon written by Monsignor Ronald A. Knox, an early twentieth century convert and apologist, titled “The Triumph of Suffering”. In it, he compares the life of the Church and the individual Christian to the life of Christ. He speaks about the trials that our Lord faced and the trials that we face. “Yet as our Lord delivered himself”, he writes, “so he delivers his Church; so he will deliver us – he has promised it, and his promise cannot fail.”
I read Knox’s sermon in light of what the world faces today. We are in the midst of a global pandemic. More than 1.2 million people have tested positive for Coronavirus (surely the numbers are higher, but many have not been able to get tested) and some 65,000 people have died. This is a terribly frightening reality. We have been forced into the seclusion of our homes and have been urged not to go outside, for fear that we may contract or spread the virus. We live in a time of great uncertainty. However, we will overcome this trial and our lives will return to normal again. “Better days will return.”
Monsignor Knox concludes his sermon:
The providence that watched over our Lord in his helpless infancy, the providence which he trusted so utterly amidst the dangers which surrounded him, has watched over his Church all through the ages, will watch over us when all hope seems lost and all prayers unanswered. The eternal God is our refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.
As we begin our observance of Holy Week, we know how the story will end: Jesus Christ will overcome the grip of death and we will rejoice and be glad. Deep down, we all know that we will overcome the pandemic, but the immediate future is uncertain and scary. However, God is watching over us and his promise to do so is unfailing. “The eternal God is our refuge.” Keep calm and carry on.