Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Accession of Queen Elizabeth II

Sunday 06 February 2022
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Sung Eucharist
Revd Nicholas Mercer

Given the age of Her Majesty, it is remarkable that many of us here today were not only alive when the Queen ascended to the throne in 1952, but may also have been old enough to watch the Coronation on television with the 27 million others when she was crowned the following year

It also follows that many will remember black and white televisions too

It seems quite remarkable that we are celebrating the Queens Platinum Jubilee

And that Queen Elizabeth II is now the longest reigning monarch in British History

Eclipsing even Queen Victoria by an astonishing seven years and counting

We are all witnesses today to this historic event

The acclamation “Long live the Queen” takes on a new dimension

Although I was not alive at the time of the Coronation

I have seen some of the footage of the service – which was repeated this weekend

And even as a young child I was intrigued by the moment when the Queen was covered by a tent

Then anointed, consecrated and blessed by the Archbishop of Canterbury while, the choir performed Handel’s magnificent anthem “Zadok the Priest”

The association with Monarchs in the Old Testament are obvious but, during the service, the Queen takes a Coronation oath

Administered by the Archbishop of Canterbury, he asked

Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and other Territories

And then

Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England?

To which the Queen replied

“I solemnly promise to do”

At this point in the service, the Queen, effectively, had the rest of her life mapped out for her

She was no longer a private citizen but the Sovereign

With responsibility for its people’s and principalities and, let us not forget, the established Church

A duty which she has wonderfully discharged for the past seventy years

As the Archbishop of Canterbury said, there could not be a finer illustration of leadership and service than the Queen sitting alone at Prince Philip’s funeral –

She has led by example

And we remember and give thanks for her service today as we mark her Accession to the throne 

But the immense privilege which the Monarchy enjoys, obviously, comes at a very heavy price

And there are those who rebel against such a life being imposed upon them

Her own grandchild, Prince Harry is the most obvious contemporary example

In his book “Finding Freedom” he makes it clear that he wanted, along with Meghan, to break away from the responsibilities that being Royal brought

As he said to

“create a new path away…dedicated to building a humanitarian legacy that will make a profound difference in the world”

These are bold, even grandiose words

And who knows whether they will – time will tell

However, this desire to break away from the Royal privilege is nothing new

Indeed, it is at the heart of one of the world’s great faiths

The founder of Buddhism, Siddharta Guatama was born a young prince who had all the material comforts one could desire

He was also expected to accede to the throne but, instead, rebelled too

His early life was spent as an ascetic seeking to understand the world into which he had been born

Soon recognising that the world was full of suffering, he tried to understand why and how to escape it

As a result of his teaching, Buddhism was born and over 500 million people are Buddhists today

He clearly did make a “profound difference in the world”

And his life stands as a testament to those who eschew a life of privilege

And then make something of it

However, the Queen made the choice not to escape the life into which she had been born

She chose to embrace it instead and, in that sense, it could be seen as her vocation

I was recently reading a piece by Rowan Williams on vocation which deals with this very issue

Although the piece was not about the Queen, or anyone in particular, he rejects the idea of total freedom in life

He observes that, if you have something to say or do in life, then you need structure

As he put it

“It is like…writing Sonnets: Once you have the shape, you have real freedom from distraction and wooliness and wondering what to do next…you have a home to work from”

However, the Queen not only chose a life of service but to serve God too

As Rowan Williams said

“What does it mean to talk about the service of God being perfect freedom? It means that, living with or in God, provides the structure and shape that most frees us from the distractedness and fragmentation of life and thought”

As he put it

“My Father works and I work. My Father speaks and I am what he speaks. He acts and I am what he does”

“This is the freedom we inherit in our baptism”

These are radical and perhaps surprising words

But they make total sense in relation to the life and service of Her Majesty – a life dedicated to her country, commonwealth and church

And so on this day when we mark the Queen’s accession to the throne

We give thanks for her reign and the service she has given to this nation over the past seventy years

We give thanks too for her guarding and guiding of the Church of England in that time

But we also give thanks for the oath that she took at her Coronation – where she chose to serve the nation and guard the faith

And act, not according to her own will, but to the will of her Father in heaven

We too face the same decisions in our daily lives – to follow God or follow ourselves

As her former Archbishop of Canterbury said

“All we have to do is decide…, which way to turn, and then act, trusting in God’s faithfulness…Follow thou me”