Yesterday, I baptised Oscar, a baby boy. Baptism marks the beginning of a lifelong journey of faith, that ends with our funeral—at which point, a new journey begins. This is why, in some traditions within the Church, the coffin is sprinkled with water from the baptismal font as it enters the church. Between these two points, our baptism and our funeral, we speak of the Christian life as a pilgrimage we undertake with others. At the heart of the baptismal rite, I declare:
‘N, I baptize you
in the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.
‘May God, who has received you by baptism into his Church,
pour upon you the riches of his grace,
that within the company of Christ’s pilgrim people
you may daily be renewed by his anointing Spirit,
and come to the inheritance of the saints in glory.
Over recent days, we have witnessed The Queue, a long procession of people, from all over the world, who have made a journey to the Queen, lying-in-state. For the final stages of their journey, they have walked alongside others, strangers to them, in a shared, and ordered, experience. People of surprisingly diverse backgrounds. Their reasons for making the journey are many and various—selfless and self-centred; we do not get to choose those we queue with—and, for some at least, hard to put into words. As they have walked, strangers have become friends, perhaps even family. As they have reached their desired destination, we have seen people bow, or salute, or make the sign of the cross, or keep their cap on until the last moment so as to doff it. And afterwards, just moments later, they are spilled out, into the city, perhaps into the night. What then? Some have rejoined The Queue, others have returned home. All will carry this experience for the rest of their lives. Will it make a difference? For some, undoubtedly.
Without any doubt, this has been a pilgrimage. And those who don’t ‘get’ that are unable to appreciate what has taken place, and why. Why so many have needed to make this journey, to pay their respects, to give thanks for a life lived in the service of others. They can only dismiss it as folly, scandal even. Which, for me, is yet another evidence that this is a pilgrimage.
The catafalque in Westminster Hall has been a resting place, not only for the Queen’s coffin, but for every pilgrim who has made the journey to stand before it. May they all be renewed for their onward journey. May they all come, at last, to their final destination, the inheritance of the saints in glory.