“Soon afterwards, Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.”
It was a dark, damp February afternoon in London, three students from the Central School of Drama were about to cross the road next to the Royal Albert Hall in London, where they had been having voice coaching lessons. Their names were John, Richard and Judy. As they made to cross, they were stopped by a white-gloved policeman. They realised that the whole of Kensington Road was empty of the normal five o’clock traffic; along the whole road were stationed white-gloved policemen. An odd thing for a cold, dark, February afternoon – then swiftly and silently a shiny, black limousine drove past quite quickly – inside a young woman wearing black gloves and dark clothes waved through the window. Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, Queen Elizabeth II was being driven to Buckingham palace as the new Queen Regnant of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Realms – the year 1952, having landed at an RAF base nearby from Africa where she had heard of the news of her father’s death a few days before.
(My friend the late John Hencher, who became a priest after being an actor, and was chaplain of the boys’ school here in Monmouth, told me of that event. Richard and Judy?…well their surnames are Briers and Dench.)
So began the reign of Elizabeth our Queen, a reign of 64 years and 126 days, and for whose long life of 90 years we give thanks and celebrate today. But amidst the red, white and blue bunting and union flags, amidst the nostalgia for Coronation Chicken and Eton Mess, what are we celebrating?
Before she became queen, when still Princess Elizabeth, she said:
“I declare before you all, that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.”
And that is it. Queen Elizabeth II, has devoted every day of her long life and reign to service. She is the Head of State, Head of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Fount of Justice, Head of the Armed Forces, the Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England – she is patron of over 600 organisations and charities. But more than that…it is the seriousness and sincerity the Queen brings to each visit she makes each person she talks to, which we value and celebrate and for which we give thanks. When she came to open a new building at the school in which I used to teach – we all lined up along the corridors of the school, and as she approached my form, we had a young lad who had his leg in plaster. She stopped in front of him and bent down and asked him the kind of questions about his leg and offered him some helpful words of encouragement like a good grandmother would do. I still remember the smile on his face.
Queen Elizabeth’s zest for public engagements never seems to flag. Last year, our 90 year old Queen carried out 306 engagements in the UK and 35 overseas. By comparison, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry between them carried out only 198 public engagements.
When visiting Accrington, Lancashire. After the visit, a reporter mingled in the crowd and asked a bunch of teenage lads, their faces painted in red white and blue stripes, what they thought of the Queen’s Visit: “ rate champion…we’re dead chuffed…she’s like dead rich and rate posh…and she’s come to see us”,
which, translated from the Lancastrian, means they were over joyed that the Queen, who is so rich and privileged had spent time meeting ordinary young people in their own place.
What is her motivation? Well we only have to listen in to her Christmas broadcasts to gain an insight. In her broadcast of 2000, she said:
“For me, the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God, provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.”
Queen Elizabeth is a sovereign who serves, inspired by a God who serves. God is love and out of that love God became a single cell in Mary’s womb. And then, a wriggling baby on the straw. And then, a defenceless refugee on the run. And then, a builder’s labourer. And then, a penniless preacher; a homeless healer; a stooping, foot-washing servant. Yet he descends even further to be a victim, absorbing cruelty and injustice for the sake of love. Never has anyone so mighty become one so meek as the God of love, the creator of you and me. He is our ultimate sovereign; because he is our ultimate servant. Inspired by her Christian faith Queen Elizabeth is our sovereign and our servant:
Often the Queen’s service soothes and heals – such as when she spoke in Gaelic on her visit to the Irish Republic, or when she spoke comforting words, granny-like, to the boy with a broken leg on that school visit I told you about.
In her Christmas broadcast, last year, she said:
“Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a saviour, with 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 can feel the power of God’s love.”
Let us give thanks to God for Queen Elizabeth II’s 90 years of long life – and of 64 years devoted service to all people in the name of Christ. Let us pledge to follow her example and recommit ourselves, with the help of God, to do the same. Amen.