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The Queen's Jubilee: A Reflection

Listening to the Queen’s 70th Jubilee Service of Thanksgiving, I was inspired to write this after considering what sermon I would have given had I been addressing the congregation (and the world) at that service.

Image by WikiImages from Pixabay


Several years ago, I found myself in Bethlehem. I was an intern with a charity supporting refugees in the Middle East, and myself and my boss were visiting our charity’s regional projects and contact networks. I was having a bad day. I’d made my boss and I late for an engagement we were attending and then forgotten something important. I don’t really remember why else it had been such a rubbish day but suffice it to say it was one of those days where everything I did felt inadequate. All that remained of this mediocre day was dinner with a group staying at our hotel. I determined to get through it as quickly as possible and then slope off to my room.

We arrived at dinner (late), and I saw that all but one space had been taken. This was perfect. I took my boss to the final remaining space and prepared to slyly exit the scene. Filled as I was with melancholic inadequacy, the last thing I wanted was to make small talk with the polite middle-class society assembled. All I desired was the peace and isolation of my hotel room with the chance to emotionally switch off in front of the TV. Then, just as I made my move to leave, my heart sank as my Israeli colleague called out, “Here, have my seat.” “Oh no, don’t worry, I’ll be fine. You stay here and enjoy yourself.” But he insisted. Bother. So I sat down.

Next to me was sat an elderly monk, dressed in his Franciscan habit. For some reason, sitting next to this monk heightened the negativity within me. Perhaps, having considered both fancifully and seriously becoming a monk myself as a teenager, just being next to him pricked further at my own sense of insecurity and inadequacy. But regardless, I proceeded to just put my head down, focus on my plate of food, and eat my meal as quickly as possible. That’s when I felt his hand on my shoulder.

What took place next was one of the most profound experiences of my life. It's hard to put into words the transformation that took place next. What words I find seem hopelessly impotent to convey the depth of what occurred, while also at once seem a gross magnification of what was in many respects such an ordinary encounter. All I know is that with a hand on his shoulder and some kind words (which I’d forgotten as soon as he said them), this monk took me from a place of abject anonymity to feeling like the most special person in the room. I can’t say whether the impact of this encounter had more to do with the kindness, love and cheer that emanated from this man’s presence or was simply a reflection of how low I’d been feeling. What I do know is that I no longer wanted to leave the room. I no longer felt inadequate.

This weekend, we are celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee – 70 years on the throne! Yesterday, I watched the Service of Thanksgiving for the Queen. Like many, I have a great love and admiration for the Queen, and I found the service very moving. But sometimes, I myself am struck by the strength of my emotional reaction to such things. After all, this woman only possesses her status via an accident of birth. Why then does she give rise to this deep desire within me to express my gratitude, awe and respect? Why do such expressions seem sincere and right, not sycophantic and ridiculous?

I think stories like the one with myself and the monk in Bethlehem give us a clue as to why. During the BBC’s coverage of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, world-famous singer, Elaine Paige, shared a small anecdote from her life of meeting the Queen.

“One memory that comes to mind was when I was asked to sing at Windsor Castle. Sadly, it was in 2002 and the Queen Mother had died and obviously the concert was cancelled. Then, two or three weeks later, I met the Queen at the Royal Academy of Arts, and I was astonished that she came to me and apologised to me that the concert had been [cancelled]... She reassured me that it would be reinstated, and I was just blown away by that. I thought, here is a woman that was probably grieving, obviously, for the loss of her mother, and, as you said, her thoughts were not about herself, they were about others. Eventually I did manage to make the performance at Windsor Castle. Of course, she came out of the doors first… and [she] walked towards me with her arms outstretched, looked me in the eye and said, ‘Elaine, at last!' And I just think she is the most brilliant woman.”

“Honour one another above yourselves.” So reads Romans 12:10b, one of my favourite verses. It is too easy to read these lines quickly before moving onto the rest of the passage. But more than perhaps any other moral command found in the Christian Scriptures, I think this is the most profound. Except perhaps when we are truly enamoured by someone or something, our instinct is rarely to give honour, but very much to receive it. We want to be thanked, to be listened to, to be praised. But how often do we take intentional steps to give other’s thanks, to listen to others well and to give others praise? Not only that, but each of us shares pain and trauma from times when we have been dishonoured and humiliated. Bullying in school, someone not respecting our time, insults behind our back, rejection from someone we admired or loved – we feel these things acutely.

There’s a reason why in Jane Austen’s classic, Emma, (spoiler alert) when young Harriet talks about the man who ‘saved me’, she is not referring (as her friend, Emma, assumes) to the dashing Frank Churchill who rescued her from the physical danger of her gypsy muggers. Instead, she is referring to the noble Mr. Knightley who, despite his own dislike of dancing, saved her from humiliation by asking her to dance when she had been shunned by all the other men, worried as they were about affiliating with this woman of low-birth.

The Queen possesses great privilege and honour. It would be easy – as indeed many monarchs of the past demonstrate – to let this privilege and honour become all-consuming. Instead, what we see time and again is a person who uses her position of honour to bless others with the same. As former Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, mentioned elsewhere in the BBC’s coverage, “When she’s talking to you, she’s not looking around to see ‘What’s more attractive here’. She pays 100% attention to you.” The egotistical use their honour to generate greater glory for themselves; the loving use their honour to make others feel just as special.

In an age of celebrity, in a time where it is perhaps easier than ever to become self-obsessed, it is good, indeed right, to celebrate this remarkable woman who for seventy years has truly served her country and Commonwealth. Her privilege has not been a platform for her own personal glorification – we have no Instagram or twitter account to follow her latest personal trends – but instead a platform to honour, praise and uplift others.

Perhaps it is easy to consider others more worthy of honour than yourself when it is obvious your position owes itself to the accident of birth. Then again, maybe if we were more willing to admit how much our own achievements and successes owed less to our own deservingness and much more to the grace of God and others, we too might be quicker to consider others more worthy of honour than ourselves.

-The End-


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