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Sunday 6 February 2022: The Accession of Queen Elizabeth II, 1952

The Gift of Service
Luke 22:24-30

By John Hall
Dean Emeritus of Westminster and Bursalis Prebendary of Chichester Cathedral

Context: a Civic Service of the Word to mark 70 years of the Accession of Queen Elizabeth II, with Civic dignitaries, uniformed youth organisations and a variety of ages

Aim: to mark and celebrate the Christian gift of service

ACCESSION

Seventy years ago, Princess Elizabeth and The Duke of Edinburgh had undertaken a major tour. They enjoyed a few days of peace and quiet, staying in Treetops in the Aberdare National Park, some sixty miles north of Nairobi, no doubt fascinated by the wildlife.

King George VI had waved them off from the airport and seemed well. But he died in his sleep. He was 56 years old. Queen Elizabeth II returned to the United Kingdom, grieving the death of her beloved father. It is hard for us to imagine the sense of duty now imposed on her as she began to take responsibility as Queen.

We remember the words of the 21-year-old Princess speaking from South Africa, ‘I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.’ On this seventieth anniversary of The Queen’s accession, that commitment of service has been magnificently fulfilled.

 

THE GIFT OF SERVICE

The Gospel passage read today reminds us of the duty and the commitment to service. No one is to lord it over another. That, Jesus said, was the way of the kings of the Gentiles. Our Lord’s way was to be very different. He said, ‘I am among you as one who serves.’ We see Jesus serving time and again. The crowds press around him, many of them seeking healing. Jesus surely exhausts himself in his willingness to bring healing and wholeness to those who suffer. His teaching and his preaching also require endless persuasion against almost impossible odds. The crowds mostly fail to understand him and gradually fall away. Even his closest followers, his disciples, find it hard to grasp what Jesus aims to teach them. Service is not in their minds; James and John, we remember, not long before the crucifixion, still expect to be given places of glory in heaven. Our Lord’s way was so different. The disciples only really grasped this great truth when they received the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost.

 

THE QUEEN AT LAMBETH

In 2012, The Queen visited Archbishop Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace and met the representatives of nine living faith communities. She spoke of the importance of service. ‘The Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country, the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.’ She reminded her hearers that, ‘religious groups have a proud track record of helping those in the greatest need, including the sick, the elderly, the lonely and the disadvantaged. They remind us of the responsibilities we have beyond ourselves.’

 

TO SERVE

We can easily imagine a country without the influence of Christianity as a driving force. Think of Israel in our Lord’s lifetime. The power of the Roman army was overwhelming. And Rome had little time for generosity or service; the whole task was to dominate and control, to ensure that the people of Israel knew who was in charge so that they were bound to obey. We can look back to recognise the power of dictators in the first half of the 20th century. Spain, Portugal, Italy, Russia and Germany were all dominated by ruthless dictators who imposed their power and their will on their people. There was little or no freedom in practice. The death in Russia, under Stalin, of millions of Russian people was matched by the death of six million Jews under German hegemony. The dictators required their people to serve them and obey them. We must thank God that those days are long gone.

The influence of Christianity in this country, as in many other countries, has been deeply pervasive and influential. Much of the fabric of society has been built on Christian principles. Down the centuries Christianity has not lost its influence. Attitudes have changed and diversified. But the religious instinct and religious principles remain clear and influential. Above all, the will to serve remains a powerful force, and this is modelled supremely by Queen Elizabeth II. Today as we remember her accession seventy years ago, we give thanks for the service of our Queen and her faithful Christian witness amongst us.

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