As I watched King Charles receiving the warm messages from Parliamentarians on Monday (sitting on the very spot where his ancestor and namesake King Charles 1 had been brutally condemned to death by our Parliamentarian ancestors), it occurred to me to wonder whether he was being comforted by us; or we by him? Was all of the magnificent pageantry of the last week or so, and the many poignant and emotional moments within it, a family matter, a farewell to our great Late Queen, a celebration of our new King, a moment of transition for the whole Nation, an essential symbol of our (unwritten) Constitution with the Parliamentary Monarchy at the heart of it; or, I suppose, some part of all of these.
Or is it that the Royal family, we Parliamentarians, the people as a whole (so many thousands of whom will queue for hours for a last glimpse of Her Majesty), the soldiers taking part in the ceremonies, the hundreds of people responsible for making the necessarily highly complex logistical arrangements, the purist Constitutional expert; is it that all of us in our different ways are seeking ‘comfort’ from these events and ceremonies. Comfort from our grief, comfort that other people feel the same as we do; comfort that the traditions and symbols are as powerful as ever; and comfort that despite Her Majesty’s sad death our Nation and Parliament and Monarchy would still be the same; comfort that the Nation is still functioning as it always has and always must.
It’s an odd word ‘comfort’. We tend to think of it as being rather like ‘luxury’, perhaps ‘cosy-ness’. It’s a first class hotel; it’s a warm fire, our old slippers, relaxation after a busy day; it’s what our Mother did when we fell over and grazed our knee- she ‘comforted’ us.
In actual fact the word’s real meaning is rather less soppy. It comes from the same root as ‘fort’, ‘fortitude’, ‘fortify’, and its real meaning is “to make strong.” In an old sermon of my Father’s he points out that the Beatitude “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted” does not really mean that the mourner’s pain will diminish. Nor should we necessarily want it to, cathartic as pain can be. The Beatitude does not mean that mourners will be made less sad, but that they will be made stronger - stronger not only to bear the immediate loss, but also stronger to face the other problems of life as well. Mourning strengthens us in every way. Those who have queued for hours to file past HM’s coffin feel satisfied, stronger, as they leave through the Great North door of Westminster Hall as the King did after the ceremony on Monday.
It has been an extraordinary few weeks - with the switching of one Prime Minister and Administration, the start of a new one with some dramatic (if overshadowed) announcements about the Energy crisis, alongside the sad passing of our late great Queen and the accession of the new King. Meanwhile we rejoice at what looks like a dramatic and I hope, decisive, turn in favour of the Ukrainians, the Russians fleeing in disarray. What a mix of emotions, what concerns and sadness yet what curious happiness we have experienced. What uncertainties and newness we face. Who knows what the short, medium, far less long term future will hold?
In all of that we seek certainty, reassurance; we hold dear to all we know, to the familiar and to the certain. And I hope that we are comforted- given fortitude, strengthened, given new certainty and strength for the future - by the mourning of the last few days.
‘Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’