The passing of a monarch – the end of an era, bringing with it uncertainty, questions and a sense of change.
Recently I preached on Isaiah 6 and even just a few weeks ago I was struck by the parallels with our own times. That famous Bible chapter begins with the words, "In the year that King Uzziah died..."
It is more than a casual historical reference. For Uzziah, like Elizabeth II, had been on the throne a long time. His death marked the end of a long era of national prosperity. Likewise, during the Queen's reign, national standards of living have increased beyond what those alive in 1952 could possibly have anticipated when she ascended to the throne. But, in the last few years there have felt like challenges – Covid, gas and electricity prices, a rapid change in Prime Ministers, heated debate over Brexit ... Some might say the shine has come off the national brand. It felt that way to Isaiah too.
Into that situation God gives Isaiah a simple but also extraordinary reminder: there is a higher throne. And God, the Lord Almighty, the Lord of hosts, is on it.
Isaiah 6 says:
"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.'
"At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke" (verses 1 to 4).
Queen Elizabeth II remembered – throughout her reign – that there was a higher throne. She deferred to it – not an easy thing to do, I think in fact, given her context – and constantly alluded to it in her annual Christmas messages. The spiritual position of King Charles III, for whom we must now pray (1 Timothy 2v1-3) seems rather less clear. But pray we can and pray we must – not only for him but for new Prime Minister Liz Truss (imagine having this just 48 hours into office) – and for all the Royal Family and the Cabinet.
And Isaiah 6 goes on with what is a wonderful Old Testament picture of the gospel: Isaiah recognises his own sinfulness (v5) – the appropriate response to God's holiness – but, remarkably, finds that his "guilt is taken away" (v6-7). The burning coal from the altar points forward to the ultimate sacrifice that Christ would one day pay to take the guilt away of any who will turn and trust in the Lord – whether royalty, politician or the rest of us. May Charles, Camilla, William and Kate, Liz Truss and the Cabinet know the truth of this for themselves.
And for all of us there is something in Isaiah 6 too. For having glimpsed the higher throne, Isaiah hears the call of God (v8) and offers his famous response: "Here am I – send me!"
At this time of change will we once again dedicate ourselves to the service of this almighty, holy God, who calls us to be labourers for the harvest. It will not be easy – people may not listen, things may unfold bleakly. And the Lord tells Isaiah in no uncertain terms that this is what he should expect in his lengthy ministry (6v9-13).
The Lord is still on the throne. He calls us to go to our people, now, at this time of transition from monarch to monarch, remembering that our message may not be well-received.
But because the Lord is King we will serve Him come what may – just as Queen Elizabeth II did, so faithfully, for so many years.
David Baker is Contributing Editor to Christian Today and Senior Editor of the newspaper and website EN, available at less than the cost of a cappuccino per month at https://www.e-n.org.uk in print and online. He writes here in a purely personal capacity.