A sermon preached by the Lord Bishop of London, Dean of HM Chapels Royal at a gathering of chaplains to Her Majesty on the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty’s Accession 6 February 2012.
Chapel Royal Diamond Jubilee Accession Service. [A reflection by the Bishop of London, Dean of HM Chapels Royal at a gathering of the College of Chaplains to the Queen. 6-ii-2012]
Lessons – IPeter II:11-17. Matthew XXII: 16-22.
In the Queen’s own message released for today, Her Majesty says “As I mark sixty years as your Queen, I dedicate myself anew to your service. I hope that we will all be reminded of the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship and good neighbourliness.”
It is a remarkable statement at a time of cynicism and short termism; of disposable cups and junk mail. What a contrast to the picture of royalty painted by one of the media luminaries of our day who hailed last year’s royal wedding in these words – “It will be the biggest event in television history because there are no bigger celebrities in the world than the royals.” Thank God that the Royal Family following the example of the Queen and Prince Philip does not in fact exemplify the hedonistic lifestyle associated with the culture of celebrities who are [as the American historian Daniel Boorstin put it] persons principally “well known for their well-known-ness”.
I was especially struck by the words “convening strength” in the Queen’s message. Daily experience often seems to suggest that we are on the way to what Jeremy Bentham described as a “society of strangers”. Perhaps that is why we invoke the concept of the “community” so frequently because we are aware of its fragility and the truth that in some parts of the country, fragmentation has gone so far that community is hard to find. But over the past sixty years the Monarchy has proved over and over again its “convening strength” and a capacity to hall-mark and foster the development of a community of communities which can give colour and encouragement to our individual lives.
Monarchy has ancient roots and biblical reverberations from the time that Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon King and all the people cried “God save the King”. What we celebrate in this Chapel Royal today is ancient and stands for deep continuities and rituals without which people become disoriented and have difficulty in changing purposefully.
We have changed profoundly as a country in the sixty years of the Queen’s reign. We have bade farewell to Empire abroad and moved into a new multicultural reality at home. The demise of the old world and the arrival of the new, has involved sometimes painful adjustments The quiet dignity of the Queen and the way in which she and her family have reached out to include newly established British communities has provided a focus for continuing but expanding national self- respect and so has assisted the peaceful transformation of our national identity.
Like every bishop I am constantly in the company of Mayors and as I visit the boroughs of London it is striking that some of the most enthusiastic supporters of the Monarchy are civic dignitaries with an Asian or Afro-Caribbean heritage.
So Monarchy is ancient but also fresh. We are not celebrating some antique model like the personal rule of Charles I when my predecessor William Juxon moonlighted as Lord Treasurer of England. We celebrate what is ancient but fresh and especially precious in our own time.
At a time of considerable cynicism about Caesar, the Queen embodies themes in our common life together which are more fundamental than this or that new idea or policy; I mean the themes of birth and death, love and loss. To place such a person at the heart of our life as a nation is to honour humanity above all things and above all divisive ideologies.
In this way our constitution is very modern. It is common to divinise power and many republics have heads of state who combine real political power with the aura which comes from representing the whole nation. We only have to look across the Channel to observe this alternative model.
In the United Kingdom it is different. In our head of state, we honour humanity with some very definite characteristics of the kind which bind a community together. Our sovereign was called sixty years ago in tragic circumstances to very great responsibilities. The bond between King George VI and his daughter was very close but in the words of Martin Charteris who was with the Queen in Kenya when she received the news, “she seized her destiny with both hands.” The monarch embodies a vocational approach to life, lived, not as a self-promoter with the hedonistic values of celebrity culture, but as a servant of God whose role is to offer “convening strength” to the whole community.
That community embraces our memories and the values for which previous generations have fought and died and these memories and values unite the living and the departed. The departed and those yet to be born are also parts of our national community and this is an important aspect of the hereditary principle.
For a Christian monarch, the whole community includes people of different faiths and none. This is because a profound relationship with God can only be developed by those who have freely chosen to respond to His call. It is Christian to be tolerant not because we believe so little about God but because we believe so much in the importance of the free response to God’s call which the monarch exemplifies at the Coronation service. Firmly rooted in the Christian faith as the Church of England has received and taught it, it has been possible for the Queen to reach out to other parts of the Christian Church and to followers of other great world religions.
While there is scepticism whenever those who represent Caesar in the political realm invoke God, [and there is great wisdom in the consequent reticence displayed by politicians] it has been possible for the Queen with her very different role to be steadily more explicit in her Christmas broadcasts about her own lively faith in Jesus Christ which sustains her work.
The cost of this call and way of life is so great that it is proper to regard it in sacrificial terms. As a notable republican said to me the other day – “I don’t believe that we should ask anyone to do the job”
But the job has been done with conspicuous dedication over the past sixty years. The Queen embodies the truth at the heart of our life as a nation that the kingdom of God and a humane society is built, yes by raw political power and programmes but also and perhaps most profoundly by the human touch, loving and unwearied service, attention to others.
Christian monarchy today embodies not a set of policies or the pinnacle of a hierarchical social order but a life, a fully human life, lived in the presence and calling of God who dignifies all humanity. Such a life which is open to us all is the essential ingredient from which the Kingdom; God’s plan for the human race, grows.
The spectacle of such a life properly evokes loyalty. This is not the calculating loyalty of the plastic loyalty card at the supermarket but a transforming and attentive love. Loyalty of course is always regulated by its consonance with the law of God because loyalty to a bad cause is not a virtue but the people we have all known who exemplify true loyalty exhibit a spiritual beauty which is its own witness to truth.
Yesterday Sir John Major announced details of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Appeal which was mooted at the most recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth. The Appeal will provide ways in which proper loyalty and gratitude to the Queen can be translated into a lasting tribute for sixty years of giving which will benefit people throughout every country of the Commonwealth.
This anniversary is a time to speak about those things which may once have seemed obvious but which if they are not affirmed will pass into oblivion. We shall all have opportunities to do this in the events of the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations. St Peter summed it all up in the lesson we have just heard – Honour Humanity, Love the Community, Fear God and Honour the Sovereign. [IPeterII:17]