Platinum Jubilee Choral Evensong homily by Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, Bishop of Bristol
So the Platinum Jubilee concert, with its national treasures and aged and not so aged rock superstars stars had as its billtopping act a small bear, a handbag, two marmalade sandwiches…and HMQ. Present digitally as mother extraordinary to her children and to the nation.
I wonder how you have spent these Jubilee days? With neighbours, with family, with all the unexpected joy and delight and disturbance brought to the party by uninvited guests and children and pets, as well as the not unexpected rain?
I wonder if you have looked back over the stories of your community or your family or our commonwealth and nation from the last 70 years, and had glimpses of the years ahead in the hope and fears of those around you?
I wonder if you have felt a mixture of rejoicing in the companionship of others across the world, and a disconcerting sense of the uncertainty each of faces in our own lives?
It may be our acute awareness of the struggles of so many in our world in the context of the pandemic, war and threat to our planet, or it may be my own increasing age and the knowledge that I will not see another Jubilee, but along with the pageantry and ceremony there has been an undertow of reflectiveness, of wondering about the meaning that underlies all this.
And the simple answer at the heart of all this, the reason for all this, is not just Her Majesty the Queen whose life of service to people and nation we celebrate but her motivation and vocation, her vow, made before her marriage before her accession and before her coronation, on her 21st birthday in 1947:
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.
But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given.
God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.
So this weekend we who have attempted to share in, and to support, Her Majesty the Queen in her continued task and calling, reflect on the changes in State and Church she has witnessed, and the stability she has brought, the change and the stability which continue to enable her people to thrive in our common life.
As the second reading put it, there is no authority except from God. But what does that theological statement mean practically now and more than 70 Her Majesty’s coming of age in 1947. Two examples: you will have many more. Certainly there has been constitutional change. Under her care the imperial family has become a commonwealth of nations and with time that has created the space for a sobering perspective on the sinfulness as well as the glory of our imperial story, a reflection which should and will continue.
At the same time the role of the established church has shifted from a sense of incontestable superiority in doctrine and faith and social position to a new relationships of partnership with others with very different frames of reference. I am so grateful that our friend and colleague +Declan, Bishop of Clifton, could be here today as a sign of our common witness to Christ.
I was present at Lambeth Palace the moment, during the Diamond Jubilee when Her Majesty the Queen and supreme governor of the church saying The concept of our Established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly underappreciated. Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country. It certainly provides an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents. But also, gently, and assuredly, 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." I am therefore delighted that our colleague and friend Zaheer is with us here this afternoon.
Beneath these examples of profound shifts in thinking has been a renewed understanding of God’s hospitality to us, God’s invitation to us in Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit to join in celebration of the gift of this earth, the gift of all living creatures, and the gift of each human being as made in the image of God. God’s calling to receive those gifts with joy. This thinking about who God is provokes a new sense of delight and interdependency, and a mutual accountability which is implicit in that 1947 Royal vow.
We know how Her Majesty the Queen has been generous in giving and receiving hospitality. Those of us who have had the honour of meeting her know the careful preparation which lies behind the knowledgeable and affirming conversations we have had with her. Those of us who have had the honour of welcoming her to our communities know the way the Queen’s presence is transformative of the day and of the place.
And those of us who have the possibility of retiring from public life and public service marvel at her continued stamina and her ability to pace herself for the long term in what has been a long long life of public service to the common good. And in all the demands on her from the daily red boxes to the peculiarities of Archbishops, bishops, Prime Ministers and Ministers and so many more, I thank God for the grandchildren, and great grandchildren, the Corgis and the horses which I have seen at first hand have brought her such simple and straightforward joy
So back to my starting point. And that poignant and prayerful declaration: God help me to make good my vow. Those of us who have taken life vows, whether before God at our marriage, or to God in a faith community know that, as the marriage service puts it, we do so for better or for worse. The point of a vow made before God is that we are no longer at the centre, God is. We are no longer the arbiters of our destiny, God is. It is that devotion, that accountability to God which is mostly understated, but has increasingly been the theme of her Christmas messages, it is that devotion, that accountability which has been the wellspring of the Queen’s life first as a young female monarch in a man’s world, then as our longest ever ruling monarch, and now as a widow, and in increasing frailty. Despite being at the centre of so much attention through 70 years and more, her head has not been turned and she has not deviated in her own allegiance to God in Christ, and to service of the people who are therefore her charge and care.
Open heartedness to others, accountability to God: In a world where we are so easily tempted into the desert of individualism, self interest and narcissism the Queen’s vocation to serve, her devotion to God and to others, inspires and I pray renews our own sense of purpose. As in 1947 she blessed us in a common calling to service may we in our turn bless her, saying and soon singing with heart and soul God save our gracious Queen, long live our faithful Queen, God save the Queen.