The preacher was Dame Mary Tanner D.B.E. a parishioner of St. Laurence Church, here in Hawkhurst.
Pentecost Sunday 2022 and the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee
These last months we have followed Jesus from his birth at Christmas, his baptism, through his ministry, to his death on the Cross, his resurrection and ascension into heaven and now today we celebrate the sending of the Spirit upon his disciples, upon the Church. These events form the very centre of the Christian faith which the Church has celebrated for nearly 2000 years. This is the heart of our faith which we remember each week in this Eucharist, in this Holy Communion and from which we are sent out in the power of the Spirit of Pentecost to live and work to God’s praise and glory.
But, back to our Gospel and the words of Jesus – ‘I am among you as one who serves’. The disciples had been discussing who was the greatest among them. Jesus answers them. ‘Let the greatest among you become the youngest, and the leader as one who serves…. I am among you as one who serves.’ It is not difficult to see why this passage has been chosen for this Pentecost service is it? Today is special as we celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of our Queen. On her 21st birthday she was in South Africa and there she pledged herself to the service of God’s people.
Much has been remembered about our Queen these last days. Each of us will have our own memories. I wonder what yours are. I have mine. Memories from childhood and the moment at school in 1952, when I was 14 and our history mistress came into the classroom holding back tears and told us the King had died and Elizabeth was Queen! We were told to pack our books away and go home. I remember events over the years and of course the special privileged day when I met the Queen and our conversation as her majesty pinned on me the honour of DBE. I was humbled that she could honour work for the Anglican Communion and for the reconciliation and unity of divided churches. I saw it as a recognition not just of my work but the team I worked with. I remember too my nervousness as I moved away from her and had to curtsey as I walked backwards. Try doing that with high heels on.
There is something so right about celebrating the Jubilee of our Queen in this place, in church at this service helping us to remember how central the Christian faith has been in her own life for 70 years. She has never been afraid to speak of her faith in public. What an example to set us.
In her Christmas messages she hardly ever missed an opportunity to speak about her faith in front of thousands and thousands around the world and to us gathered in front of our fires after a hearty Christmas lunch that we just had to finish in time for the Queen to join us at 3 o’clock. The Queen’s Christmas messages have consistently included references to her faith, her allegiance to Christ, and her belief in the power of prayer.
In her very first Christmas message in 1952 Elizabeth asked her people to pray for her as she prepared to dedicate herself to the service of her people at her Coronation. She often spoke of her gratitude for our prayers over the years and her gratitude to God for his unfailing, steadfast love. She said, ‘I have indeed seen God’s faithfulness’.
In 2002, when a mere 76, she said of her faith:
“I know how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad times. Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and put my trust in God. I draw from the message of hope in the Christian Gospel.”
How that faith must have helped her as she faced the hard family issues in the last years and now as she contemplates the events in Ukraine and in the many suffering parts of our world. Her unfailing faith ‘in good times and bad times’ is caught in the figure in black sitting alone, because of the restrictions of COVID, at her beloved husband’s funeral in St Georges Windsor. It spoke of grief, deep grief and pain of loss, but it spoke too of faith, deep faith and hope in the midst of grief, hope in resurrection life.
British culture is highly secularised today. Senior public figures seem wary of speaking of their faith. Our beloved Queen stands out as someone not afraid to speak of her faith. Her faith is expressed with quiet conviction and with grace. But she has always been consistently respectful of those of different denominations than our Anglican Communion and also of those of other faiths. This is not mere political correctness. That is obvious if you have had the privilege of being at the Annual Common Wealth Day service in Westminster Abbey . The Queen throughout changes in our relations to those of other faiths and other cultures has remained both open to those of other faiths and what they can teach us but always clear about her own allegiance to the heart of the Christian faith, the faith of the Church handed down from that first Pentecost.
This last Christmas she spoke of the loss of her beloved husband but also of the Christmas story ‘Jesus, a man whose teachings have been handed down from generation to generation and have been the bedrock of my faith. His birth marked a new beginning.’
The full story of Elizabeth our beloved Queen cannot yet be told. Her amazing 70 years on the throne are already an utterly unique achievement. Her first prime minister was Winston Churchill, her first Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher. The young Elizabeth was deeply influenced by wartime austerity and tragedy. I think she learnt the faith at her mother’s knees. Her mother through the terrible bombings of London in the second world war held on to the saying of Mother Julian of Norwich, ‘All shall be well all manner of things shall be well’. Our Queen throughout has embodied that quiet hope and confidence alongside a realistic appreciation of the unpredictability of life and the capacity for human beings, all of us, to go wrong.
An article came across my desk last week -‘Should we beatify the Queen?’ I think she would be appalled by that thought. She is far too modest for that. But what we can do today as we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost is give thanks for the gift of the God’s Spirit at work in the life and dedicated service of our Queen, her quiet confident faith, in good times and bad times, that all shall be well , her dependence on the guidance of the Holy Spirit in her life and her speaking with confidence, without embarrassment, to us of her faith not only in her words but in a life of service. I end where I began with words from today’s Gospel. It is not surprising that whoever chose today’s Gospel chose those words of Jesus – ‘I am among you as one who serves’ – an example for his disciples then to follow, an example followed by our Queen, an example for us to follow in our lives, in the power of the Spirit of Pentecost.
Thanks be to God for the faithful service of our Queen for 70 amazing years.