On Wednesday (9th September) Her Majesty the Queen becomes the longest reigning monarch in British history.
On 3rd June 1953, in the Shropshire hills my family did what millions of others were doing – we crowded into a neighbour’s sitting room to watch the pageantry of the Coronation on a small television that offered grainy, black and white coverage of this momentous event in Westminster Abbey. The nation was in celebratory mood and I was thrilled to be given a free Coronation commemorative mug along with all children in the country! I’m looking at mine now as I write.
The Queen’s reign has been remarkable – not just for its length but because of the extraordinary qualities of the Queen herself. It was a powerful moment in the Abbey when Archbishop Fisher held above the head of the young princess the huge Imperial State Crown with its 2868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and 5 rubies. It so clearly emphasised her vulnerability as her new responsibilities were symbolically placed upon her. Who would want such a burden of leadership? – To rule the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, walking a tightrope while balancing her hereditary role with the political forces of a democratic Government and Parliament?
But the Queen was and is a committed Christian. It seemed as if she needed all our prayers in that moment and for the rest of her reign. She would have taken great assurance from the words of the Archbishop. Her hand had been placed on a Bible and he said this:
Our gracious Queen, we present you with this book, the most valuable thing this world affords. Here is wisdom. This is the royal law. These are the lively oracles of God.
We know the challenges the Queen has faced – she has shared in the concerns of the whole nation, for example, at times of international conflict. But we are also aware that her own family has had a sequence of problem relationships which must have grieved her. In 1992, she spoke publicly of it having been her ‘Annus horribilis’, not least because of the fire at Windsor Castle. It was quite clear that in such difficult times, she did indeed draw on her resources of faith.
What is remarkable is that over the 62 years of her reign the Queen has overseen a role for monarchy that has adapted in so many respects. Although wrong-footed over the Palace’s reaction or apparent non-reaction to the death of Princess Diana, she learnt from it, adapted and moved on. Nothing symbolised this more than the sight, in the Golden Jubilee celebrations, of Suggs and Madness thumping out ironically their hit ‘Our House’ actually on the roof of Buckingham Palace!
In a changing and turbulent world the Queen has represented and given a sense of continuity. Even republicans acknowledge her extraordinary sense of duty and her commitment to serve others. Throughout her life and her reign she has continued to witness to her faith and to pray for the wisdom and strength that was promised at her Coronation as a gift of God for her.
The Bible urges us to pray for our leaders. The Queen continues to need our prayers as she carries out her demanding role. Above all, the milestone that she reaches on Wednesday gives us cause for celebration and thanksgiving. The challenge for us is to emulate the centrality of her faith and acknowledge with her that as Psalm 47 puts it….
The Lord most high is awesome – the great King over all the earth.