The 60th Anniversary of the Accession of the Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
ALMIGHTY God, whose kingdom is everlasting, and power infinite: Have mercy upon the whole Church; and so rule the heart of thy chosen servant ELIZABETH, our Queen and Governor, that she, knowing whose minister she is, may above all things seek thy honour and glory: and that we and all her subjects, duly considering whose authority she hath, may faithfully serve, honour, and humbly obey her, in thee, and for thee, according to thy blessed Word and ordinance; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth, ever one God, world without end. Amen. (Communion Collect BCP page 70)
Psalm 20, 21.1-7, Joshua 1.1-9, Romans 13.1-10
This very day sixty years ago, King George the VI was found dead in his bed and later in the day the Proclamation of Accession declared “Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary is now, by the death of our late Sovereign of happy memory, become Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of all Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith”, which proclamation was followed by the customary refrain, the King is dead, long live the Queen. The Queen was in Kenya taking her father’s place on a royal tour which he was too weak to accomplish. That she became Queen in Kenya was a sign of things to come, of a monarchy and commonwealth that would move beyond the language and systems of colonies and empire. It is also worth noting, at least here, that she was first proclaimed as Queen of Canada, our Privy Council acknowledging and swearing allegiance to the Queen of Canada, before the Accession Council in London came through two hours later.
Today is both the anniversary of the unexpected death of the unexpected King, George the Sixth and the accession of his daughter Queen Elizabeth the Second. Just as we heard in the Joshua reading, where the announcement of the death of Moses and the call of Joshua his successor are one, so for her the news of death and accession come together. This question of legitimate succession, which has arisen in our day with the proposal to grant equal rights of succession to daughters as heirs to the throne, permeates the Old Testament. Often the issue is about the succession of power but just as often the crisis is about the succession of faith and morals. And that is a crisis that all of us face in our royal or Christian families. Generations grow up who neither know the Lord nor what he has done for the people. Samuel’s sons did not walk in his ways, Solomon was never as faithful as David and Manasseh undid all of the reforms of his father Hezekiah. A successful succession is normally thought of in terms of political power and the smoothness and bloodless nature of the turnover but there is a spiritual succession that is even more important and in that work we are all involved.
However our monarchs and rulers come to us, smoothly or not, St. Paul tells us there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Paul is keen that we know that God is the Sovereign of sovereigns, the King of kings. In that prayer I used to open, composed in 1549 for the Book of Common Prayer, two points are made out of Romans 13.
We pray first that Queen Elizabeth knowing whose minister she is, may above all things seek God’s honour and glory, and second that we duly considering whose authority she hath, may faithfully serve, honour and humbly obey her, in thee and for thee, according to thy blessed word and ordinance. Paul says, she is God’s servant for our good, and we pray that she may know herself humbly as such, and Paul says that every person should be subject to the governing authorities, for they derive their authority from God, and we pray that we may so humbly acknowledge her. The purpose of these authorities is to truly and impartially administer justice, to the punishment of wickedness and vice, and to the maintenance of true religion and virtue, and no Crown or Country can do the one without the other.
Yet, as the blessed Apostle continues, good order and government, is not enough. Law cannot save us, only love can. The sword may restrain behaviour but it cannot change the heart. No law or sword, or government or worldly authority can save us, only the love and grace of God. Love is the fulfilling of the law, and it is that love of God in Christ which fulfills the law for us and which by the influence of the Holy Spirit fulfills the law in us and by us.
Romans 13 is a difficult passage for us, because we do not like to accept the demands of family or community as somehow God given. Everything we think should be a matter of human choice or election. But Paul argues that it is precisely in the givenness of earthly life and belongings that we show our heavenly allegiance, that exemplary earthly citizenship is a sign of our heavenly citizenship. Being a good citizen is a common way of Christian witness. And in this our Queen has provided us with 60 years of Christian witness.
This is a day to celebrate the good things God has granted us in the gift of our constitutional monarchy, in a Crown that is not above the law. At her Coronation the Queen took an oath to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, and other territories, according to their respective laws and customs. She swore to respect the laws and customs of the lands and peoples she governs. Treaty VI is between Her Majesty the Queen and Her successors forever and Plain and Wood Cree Indians and other Tribes of Indians. The Queen is not above the law; rather we sing and pray that she may defend our laws.
But not only should we give thanks for this constitutional monarchy under which we have come to enjoy unparalleled and unprecedented freedom but also as Christians for this Christian monarch. Queen Elizabeth took an oath “to maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel to the utmost of her power.” The specifically Christian basis of our dominion and character of our monarch are necessary, not accidental, to the freedoms, and especially the religious freedoms, we enjoy. Many would cut off our political and religious freedoms from the historical and Christian roots which bore them, and we at least have the right to be concerned that they might wither and disappear without that grounding and nourishment. Elizabeth the II is a Christian Queen, but she is not only the Christians’ Queen. And part of what makes our Queen gracious is the undergirding of the Gospel of grace, the conviction that neither Laws nor Swords can save men and women, only Grace.
Yet, her Majesty’s explicit Christian witness over sixty years has been remarkable. When she was crowned, the Moderator of the General Assembly handed her a Bible saying, “Our Gracious Queen, to keep your Majesty every mindful of the Law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes, we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords.”
That witness to spiritual riches more valuable than gold, to the virtues of service and sacrifice has been present throughout her reign, a reign that has been both extraordinary and very ordinary, rocked by sorrow and tragedy, pain and humiliation which have been borne with patience and grace. The special prayer composed for this anniversary refers to Jesus who reigns as servant not master and the Chapter of St. Paul’s has hinted in that prayer at the distinct gift of our Queen which has been to teach and exemplify the Christian truth that to serve is to reign. She understands and speaks of herself as a servant, she spoke of her coronation as an opportunity to “dedicate myself anew to your service” and asked for prayers “that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.”
It is perhaps in the annual Christmas broadcasts, a tradition she inherited from her father, an unlikely but powerfully successful and authentic broadcaster, that the Queen has consistently and publicly voiced her Christian faith. Year after year she has spoken to all the people of the Commonwealth in a common human and humane language but she also given voice there to her particular Christian faith. Her recent address spoke of reconciliation and forgiveness as the core of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She said,
“This past year has also seen some memorable and historic visits – to Ireland and from America.
The spirit of friendship so evident in both these nations can fill us all with hope. Relationships that years ago were once so strained have through sorrow and forgiveness blossomed into long term friendship. It is through this lens of history that we should view the conflicts of today, and so give us hope for tomorrow.” She went on, “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.
Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.
It is my prayer that we might all find room in our lives for the love of God through Christ our Lord.”
In the mercy of the Most High she shall not miscarry and in that same mercy of the Most High we are invited to put our trust.
The Queen’s popularity keeps republican sentiment at bay for now and those who are monarchists might be glad for this, though popularity seems to be shaky ground on which to build a country, a justice system or a just society but I want to conclude with a plea to keep the Queen on the throne for our spiritual good. There is a desire to bring the Queen down to our level, and the popular media has achieved this with some help but that equality before God as broken human beings, dare I say it, as sinners, even as justified sinners, should not be news to us, but the equality we seek, the vision we have, is not where none are kings or queens but where all are. Whatever grace and nobility we assign to our Sovereign, is nothing compared to the grace and nobility that Jesus Christ shares with us. In him the nobility of humanity is restored and in him we shall reign, not for sixty years, but forever, in the royal family of our God and Father with the anointing of his Holy Spirit.
Saint James calls the command to love your neighbour the Royal Law, and it is in the love that fulfils the law that our common royalty is proved, so, If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well.
Fulfill the Royal Law and you live and reign as kings and queens.
Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.