Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Diamond Jubilee

Micah 6.6-8
1 Peter 2.9-10
Matthew 5.1-16

I suppose the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is really a celebration of the kind of country we should like to live in, and the kind of values we would like to live by in that perfect country. It would be a country where the ultimate ideal is to observe what is good in God’s eyes, which is to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.

Matthew Parris said on Radio 4 yesterday morning that the best thing about the Queen is that she didn’t really want to be queen. She only became queen out of a sense of duty. Later in the same programme someone else accused Matthew Parris, quite rightly, of presuming to know what the Queen is thinking. But it’s certainly true that greatness was thrust upon her family. They didn’t expect to be all that special.

When she was a little girl the Queen and her parents expected to be minor royals all their lives long. When she grew up she could therefore have looked forward, perhaps, to being the patron of one or two charities and to marrying an earl or a duke. But it would have been a life of relative obscurity.

Instead the abdication of her uncle thrust them all into the limelight, and the premature death of her father propelled the Queen onto the throne. She never gave the appearance of wanting to do the job - at least not so soon. Most people accept that she undertook the task only out of a sense of God-given obligation

The Duke of Edinburgh recently remarked that, given the amount of adulation she received in the early days of her reign, she could easily have become conceited and proud. But, instead, she refused to let herself be affected. She has tried, instead, to walk humbly with her God.

Of course, if Matthew Parris is right, and the best qualification for becoming sovereign is that you don’t really want the job, where does that leave Prince Charles? Would Matthew Parris become a republican if Prince Charles ascended the throne?

Who knows. We are where we are! And, unless the Diamond Jubilee is just going to be reduced to the celebration of a record breaking run, I think we have to attempt to make something more of it than just a celebration of the Queen’s longevity and good fortune. I think it has to be a celebration of the fact that we live in a country where justice, kindness and humility are still just about seen as important values. And if a lot of younger people seem to be losing touch with those values, and accepting a crueler more self-centered version of reality, that change of mindset certainly can’t be laid at the door of the Queen. Whether or not she always manages - any more than the rest of us - to practice them in private, she clearly remains a champion of, and a believer in, those essential Christian values. Justice, kindness and humility - which of us would want to find ourselves living in a society where these things weren’t central to our shared image of how things ought to be?

There have been societies which haven’t held fast to those things. Humility sometimes seems to be dangerously absent in America, and its health and welfare system is neither just nor kind. Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were both founded on the absolute denial of all these values. And if France has got there in the end, things certainly started very badly after the Revolution. I think, at least until now, Britain has - almost accidentally - evolved in a way which has allowed justice, kindness and humility to remain important civic values, even when sometimes they were under attack.

Of course, there’s a particularly pompous version of Anglicanism which  would maintain that the words of 1 Peter do in fact apply to the English nation, if not to the whole of Britain. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, called out of darkness into his marvellous light in order that we may proclaim his mighty acts and perform mighty acts of our own. The British Empire was more or less founded on this sort of nonsense.

The real chosen race, of course, is not the English or British people but the people of God - those who submit and pledge fealty to his will above all other things. It is after all the meek, not the British Empire, who shall inherit the earth. It is those who hunger and thirst for righteousness whose destiny will be fulfilled, not the narrow interests of any single nation. It is those who are peacemakers, who are merciful and whose motives are pure and free from self-interest who are really proclaiming God’s mighty acts and who are the salt of the earth and the light of the world - in conscious imitation of Jesus

The testimony given before the Leveson Enquiry reminds us of the constant need to remain vigilant. If celebrating the Diamond Jubilee is part of that eternal vigilance then it is an important way of affirming our way of life and our version of democracy, as well as celebrating the length of the Queen’s reign.

If she seems like the sort of person who, for all the trappings of power, is really - underneath it all - someone who is the salt of the earth and a beacon shining before others then we are most fortunate and that has more to do with her own character and upbringing, and her personal faith, than with monarchy or Britishness as such. All of us are called, in our own sphere, to be salt and light too. Then we shall be part of that royal priest and that holy nation of which 1 Peter speaks.

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