At the end of this service we will solemnly stand and sing. We are not, like other countries, singing together a jingoistic anthem, nor will we be in tune with a military march, nor a traditional folk melody, or sing the eulogising of a winner’s sense of a contested history, or the blending of different national languages to unite a diverse people. Our National Anthem is an earnest and heartfelt prayer. It begins with God who holds all the words we sing and holds the one who is the focus of our sung prayer:
God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen.
We pray that Her Majesty will ‘long to reign over us’, ‘happy and glorious’.
And the prayer goes on to recall ‘thy choicest gifts in store on her be pleased to pour’.
At her Coronation, oil was poured from Charles II’s eagle-shaped ampulla, onto her head, her hands and her chest. So sacred was that moment of anointing, that a canopy of cloth of gold was held over her by four Knights of the Garter and the lenses of the television cameras averted their gaze. The oil was a mixture of sesame and olive oil, and contained orange, roses, jasmine, cinnamon, musk, benzoin resin and ambergris, found only in the intestine of a sperm whale. Choicest gifts, indeed.
Meanwhile the choir sang words from the first Book of Kings, used in every coronation since King Edgar’s in 973, and recalling a ritual that goes back at least to the anointing of King Solomon by Zadok.
The holy oil is, of course, a symbol of the Holy Spirit – the gift of which we mark today on this Feast of Pentecost. The Queen seems to have known from early in her reign that she would need the daily gift of God’s Holy Spirit to sustain her. In preparation for her Coronation, Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher created a Little Book of Private Devotions and, on the eve of that momentous day, he invited The Queen to pray, ‘Defend us with thy heavenly grace, that we may continue thine for ever and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more’.
Anointed, our Queen is, in a sense, a walking sacrament. Whilst slowing with age, she continues to be an outward sign of God’s inward grace in her life. And looking back over her reign, we see God’s choicest gifts in the fruits of the Spirit at work in her.
The love given and received as a spouse, a mother, a grandmother and a great grandmother.
The joy in recognising the achievements of those who make up the warp and weft of our communities; the people who are the glue of our nation.
The peace offered by a handshake where once there was division.
The patience with fourteen Prime Ministers at their weekly audiences, some I suspect trying her patience more than others!
The kindness shown to nervous new bishops kneeling before her, her hands held over theirs, as they pay homage.
The generosity in symbolic acts of reconciliation or a diplomatic smile that has smoothed choppy waters.
The faithfulness to her patronages, to understanding the pressures on our Armed Forces and their families, to the common good of our nation and the Commonwealth.
The gentleness towards people caught up in times of disaster, tragedy and sorrow.
And the moments of self-control when her silence can bring a divided nation and world together.
These are the fruits of the Spirit which God has enabled throughout the different seasons of the Queen’s life. Hers has been a reign of routine and dependability in a world of much change and uncertainty.
And those fruits, I am quite sure, well out of The Queen’s daily life of Christian discipleship as she seeks Godly wisdom, as they can for each of us here.
In her first Christmas message, broadcast live from Sandringham in 1952, The Queen looked ahead to her Coronation the following June and asked people of all faiths to pray for her, that “God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.”
There is a danger in monarchy that vanity overtakes a king or queen. We heard in our first reading what is needed to counter this. The author of the Wisdom of Solomon says that wisdom is the antidote. Wisdom draws leaders back. Wisdom sets the moral compass. Wisdom acts for the good of all, not for the self. Wisdom points to our need for God’s grace.
We are reminded of that on every coin in our pocket. Alongside the image of The Queen are the initials D.G. or words Deo Gratia. ‘Thanks be to God’. As we hold a coin in the palm of our hand, as Jesus did with a denarius, those words remind us that the sovereign rules first and foremost by the grace of God.
In a log cabin on the Sandringham Estate is a sign that makes me chuckle. It says, ‘There is only one Queen’. Perhaps it was a gift from an adoring husband, or a jokey grandson. I thank God that our One Queen serves the One Lord. She has done so in times of joy, times of challenge and times of sorrow; deo gratia – thanks be to God.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the heart of our Sovereign Lady Elizabeth, and continue to kindle in her the fire of your love.