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Preacher: Revd Dr Victoria Johnson, Precentor
Title of sermon: Accession Day 2022
Readings: Psalms 20, 101,121. Joshua 1:1-9, Romans 13:1-10
Date/time/service: Sunday 6th February 2022 – 4pm Choral Evensong
Imagine the jubilation, walking into Westminster Abbey to the music we have just heard. The words from Psalm 122 describe the joy and delight of entering into the courts of the Lord in procession for solemn assembly, to worship God. It was sung at the Coronation Service of Queen Elizabeth on the second on 2nd June 1953, and much of the music we have heard today, references that triumphant ceremony. But let’s rewind just a little to the anniversary we mark today, the moment when a lifelong vocation was born from the pains of death, when the mantle of service was passed on from one generation to another.
In the year previous, on the 6th February 1952, Princess Elizabeth was in Kenya with her husband Prince Phillip on a royal tour, in place of her father King George the Sixth who was ill. It was here that she received the news of her father’s death and her own Accession to the throne. In an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, she ceased to be Princess Elizabeth and became Queen Elizabeth II. She was just 25.
On that day her life changed forever, and she had to handle the grief of losing a beloved father and the incomparable weight of the duty which was being thrust upon her. We can only imagine her sorrow, and we can only imagine her fear and trepidation in taking on this responsibility and embracing what we in the church might describe as an ontological change- a change in her very being and in her life’s purpose.
When God ordained Joshua as leader of the people of Israel after Moses death, God said to Joshua, ‘As I was with Moses, so I shall be with you, I will not fail or forsake you, be strong and courageous, neither frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you everywhere you go.’
It is worth reflecting on how a young woman of 25, in a patriarchal society where her age as well as her gender would have been a stumbling block to many, it’s worth reflecting on how she would ever have the strength and courage to take on the mantle of being Queen of England. But Elizabeth, with dignity, with incredible humility and courage, made a vow to God in her own heart: to love and serve her people for as long as she lived. And so she has done.
But this fortitude, courage and strength has come from somewhere and our own Queen credits her ministry, (for I think we in the church can recognise this as a ministry), she credits her ministry to her unwavering faith in God and her trust that God will be with her everywhere she goes , just as God was with Joshua, just as God is with us. The words of Psalm 121 seem pertinent: I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help, my help cometh even from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
Her unique vow to serve as Queen, came in the line of other Christian vows she had already made: the vows made at her baptism, confirmation and marriage. At every stage of her life, she kept faith in God.
Over most of the seventy years of her reign the queen has practised her faith quietly and persistently, but it has been noted that since the turn of the millennium, in her words and in her speeches, particularly at Christmas, she has become more open about her faith, and how it has sustained her and shaped her, less private and more public about what lies at the heart of her reign. What can we learn from her example of Christian discipleship?
Our Queen often talks her own accountability before God, she recognises that in spite of her position she is simply a creature standing before the creator, a sinner in need of forgiveness, a disciple of Christ seeking to love him more dearly, see him more clearly and follow him more nearly day by day.
What can we learn from her lived example of Christian leadership, as individuals, as a church, as a nation?
Throughout her reign she has quietly shown her solidarity with the people she has been called to serve, when she was just twenty one, with an understanding of her future destiny she said this: ‘We must give nothing less than the whole of ourselves,’ she said, “I declare before you, all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.”
And so we saw when she offered her service in the army during the second world and so we saw only last year, when our queen in solidarity with her people in the midst of a global pandemic, sat alone at the funeral of her beloved husband.
In her speech on Christmas Day, two thousand years after Christ’s birth, she referenced the central teaching of the Christian faith: love God and love thy neighbour as thyself.
Is this simple commandment the answer to the questions we all ask: how do we live a good life? How do we bear the responsibilities we have been given? How do we honour one another as children of God? And for those with power and authority in our world, how do we exercise that power with humility and with justice? Love God and love thy neighbour as thyself.
St Paul in his letter to the Romans offers that there is no authority except from God, and perhaps those who take that truth seriously, are more likely to be the kind of rulers and leaders our world really needs. Leaders who bear their power not with arrogance but with humility before God.
We can probably find examples of leadership where those with power think they are Gods, beyond reproach, beyond interrogation and beyond integrity, where their needs come before anyone elses.
But not so with our Queen, who throughout her life, in an astonishingly quiet and steadfast way, has been a living example of all those virtues which we hope are still part of the fabric of this great nation: Steadfastness, forbearance, fortitude, integrity, sacrifice, compassion, courage, hope, love and faith.
We have in our Queen an example of Christian Leadership at its most humble and human, and Christian discipleship at its most obedient.
Whatever your take on monarchy in the modern world, we cannot deny that here is a woman of faith who has lived out that faith in word and deed as both as Head of State, as supreme Governor of our Church of England, but most importantly, as a faithful disciple of Christ.
God save the Queen.
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