When Queen Elizabeth II died last week, the British flag was lowered to half-mast, and a rainbow suddenly appeared over the royal residence at Windsor Castle while a double rainbow materialized in London over Buckingham Palace. Though only mentioned a few times in the Bible and usually connected to the story of Noah’s obedience to divine guidance, the rainbow has long been a sign of God’s covenant of love and faithfulness to protect humanity from further destruction and to direct us along a good path. In ancient Greece, it was a symbol of the relationship between gods and humans and a bridge between earth and heaven.
An unlikely queen, Elizabeth rose to the throne after her uncle abdicated and it fell to her father who died a few years later. The oldest daughter with no brothers, the crown descended upon her, and, for over seventy years, she reigned as a beloved monarch. She occupied the throne through times of joy and times of sorrow, and, as her son, now King Charles III, said, she prayed often for the people of the British Empire, Commonwealth of Nations, and the world.
A few weeks ago, the church celebrated the feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and this week, we commemorate her as Our Lady of Sorrows. It is our religious belief that she prays for all of God’s children: that we will turn to the Lord and show love for one another. Her path to coronation was far more unlikely that any earthly queen. She was divinely chosen as a girl and visited by an angel that announced her role as the “theotokos,” Mother of God. Not a queenship of fairytales, she was left barefoot, pregnant, and abandoned as she found her way. In the holy temple, she was informed by an aged prophet that a sword of sorrow would pierce her heart. From fleeing her nation in horror to having her child go missing for several days, she was reminded of her role as sorrowful handmaid throughout the remainder of her earthly existence, especially when she witnessed her Son passionately suffer and die a criminal’s death. Holding Him in her arms at His birth and at His death, she embraced the fullness of that sorrow.
I suppose, on some level, every mother understands what it means to be pierced by a sword of sadness and would gladly and mercifully take on additional pain or suffering to protect her children. Though Queen Elizabeth’s reign was mostly symbolic, she loved her “children” of the United Kingdom. Her role was so meaningful that citizens would wait in line for hours to catch a glimpse of her coffin, hide their tearful face as they mourn her passing, and speak reverently of her grace, dignity, and glory. The rainbow may only be a symbol, also, but it, too, holds great meaning for subjects of the realm who image her on the bridge between earth and heaven. From there, she points to her son saying, “Long live the king!”
We may not get the gift of a rainbow very often. But as citizens of faith and subjects of our God, we look to Blessed Mother Mary, queen of heaven and earth, who trusted in the Lord at every stage till her final breath knowing that, even in her sorrow, she was never truly abandoned because she believed in God’s covenant. And now she prays for us, her children, who receive signs of her presence and encouragement in our lives. She always points away from herself toward her Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords, in His eternal reign. Let us follow her example. Long live the King!