It was strange to hear of the passing of Prince Philip. I wasn't surprised to hear the news, after all his age and recent health issues were well known. What is strange was being forced to imagine anyone other than the Queen and Prince Philip in the roles which they have occupied for so long.
When they married in 1947, my own great-grandparents were about the age that I am now. For all of those years they have simply been there, steadfastly carrying out the duties of their office.
As I reflect on his always being there, I think it is right that in the days since his passing much has been made of Philip's life of steadfast service.
However, on one level we might look at the kind of service which Philip gave and think it looks like a pretty sweet deal. His was a life of wealth, fame and influence far beyond what most of us could dream of. Give me a castle to live in and the chance to ride everywhere in a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce and I'll happily show up and cut a few ribbons!
Yet I think that if we saw his life as simply one of privilege that would be a mistake.
Before marrying Elizabeth, Philip was forging a successful naval career. By all reports he not only loved the work, but had the talent to have risen to a very high rank. In marrying the heir to the British throne he was forced to walk away from his own dreams and bow to the demands of the Queen's role.
Philip's life embodied the kind of self sacrifice that is the opposite of the 'follow your dreams' and 'do whatever makes you happy' approach to life that we so value in our present day.
Yet the paradox of Philip's life was that he became great because he gave himself up to a life of service. After all, had Philip continued to pursue a naval career, no amount of success in that field could have afforded him the opportunity to achieve all that he achieved.
We need only consider that across 144 countries an estimated eight million people have had the chance to to learn and grow through the Duke of Edinburgh Awards. He was the first chairman of the World Wildlife Fund. And when no one else was paying attention he as the 'strength and stay' of our longest serving Monarch.
It was from his position two steps behind the queen that he was afforded resources and influence which allowed him to be far greater than he otherwise could have been.
The reason that this aspect of Philip's life has so resonated with me personally is that it is so like what Jesus tells us that it is like to follow him.
Any Christian will tell you that following Jesus requires service and self sacrifice which at times can be though. As was true for Philip, the Christian often finds their own dreams and desires being set to one side as they seek to live as the people of the king of all creation.
Yet any Christian will also tell you that what they gain from following Jesus is far greater than anything that we leave behind.
The great paradox of life is that true hope, meaning, riches and greatness is found not in living for ourselves but for Jesus. As Jesus himself tells us, 'If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.'
We might find that what true hope, meaning, riches and greatness are very different from what we first imagined. However we will find that a life in service of Jesus is far greater than anything we could have imagined without him.