Sermon given at Matins on the Celebration of Her Majesty The Queen's Diamond Jubilee
3rd June 2012 at 8:10 am
The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster
On her twenty-first birthday in 1947, the then Princess Elizabeth broadcast a radio message to the young people of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. She pledged to commit her whole life ‘whether it be long or short’ to duty and service. She spoke in solemn words about going forward together ‘with an unwavering faith, a high courage, and a quiet heart.’ She went on, ‘I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow.’ In this Diamond Jubilee year we celebrate sixty years since The Queen’s accession to the throne, sixty years of faithful service, sixty years in which she has truly made good the vow. In this act of worship, we thank God for his help and for his blessing on The Queen and her reign.
Yesterday was the fifty-ninth anniversary of The Queen’s Coronation here in Westminster Abbey. In a year’s time we shall have a fuller opportunity of looking back over sixty years to The Queen’s Coronation in 1953. Today we can remind ourselves of the power of that occasion. The high point of the ceremony was of course the coronation itself, when the crown of St Edward, the eleventh-century King and Confessor, whose tomb is here in the Abbey, was placed on The Queen’s head by the Archbishop of Canterbury. But leading up to that moment were ceremonies of symbolic power.
‘Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon king’ begins Handel’s anthem sung at the Coronation. And The Queen was anointed with holy oil. Traditionally, at the ordination of priests and bishops, the candidate is anointed with holy oil. This anointing carries great meaning, because the words Messiah and Christ, titles of our Lord Jesus, mean in Hebrew and Greek ‘the anointed one’. So the anointing of the Sovereign is a setting apart for service after the example of Jesus Christ, who said of himself that he came not to be served but to serve. The link with the setting apart of priests and bishops is emphasised when the Sovereign is clothed with a stole and mantle in cloth of gold, like the stole and cope worn by a priest. The final stage of the Coronation service in the Abbey fifty-nine years ago was the moment when the Sovereign received the Bread and Wine in Holy Communion, confirming her intention to be sustained by God so that she could live and work after the example of our Lord.
The Queen said in a radio broadcast at the end of Coronation Day, ‘Throughout this memorable day I have been uplifted and sustained by the knowledge that your thoughts and prayers were with me. It is hard for me to find words in which to tell you of the strength which this knowledge has given me.’
This Diamond Jubilee year is an opportunity for us, our nation and Commonwealth to express in more vivid ways than usual our own thoughts and prayers for The Queen as we look back on sixty years of service and ministry. We can see in her life the extraordinary value of selfless service to others, of doing our duty, of doing what is right, so different from doing what we do for the sake of short-lived celebrity or fame or fortune. Doing our duty could easily be thought dull and uninspired compared with more dramatic or touchy-feely or innovative approaches to life. But now we can see the value of duty done, day after day, week after week, year after year. This year we honour duty and service, carried out ‘with an unwavering faith, a high courage, and a quiet heart.’
In her twenty-first-birthday birthday address, The Queen added ‘God bless all of you who are willing to share in [my vow].’ We should reflect for a moment on the challenge offered each of us by The Queen’s example of dutiful service.
It is unfair to characterise the spirit of our own age as one of rampant selfishness and greed, where people generally put themselves first. It is true of everyone in every age: our intentions may be good, the spirit may be willing, but the flesh is too often weak. Left to ourselves, we certainly prefer to please ourselves, to put ourselves first. To do anything else, to put others first, requires of us efforts almost beyond our powers. But that is what we must do if we are to follow the example of Christ and build a community of love. The Queen said in her Christmas broadcast last year,
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 – a Saviour, with the power to forgive.
May we too know the power and love of the Saviour who said of himself that he came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many and I pray that we may too follow his example!