Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
There have been a steady stream of people coming into the cathedral here to sign the book of condolence since the tragic news of Her Late Majesties death reached us last week. I know there will have been similar scenes in other churches. Not only that, but many will have been visiting our open church buildings to pray and reflect. Sometimes, we need that sort of quiet rather than gathering with others.
On Sunday afternoon the accession announcement took place at the west end of the cathedral following the announcement at St. James Palace the previous day. This was then cascaded out to the local mayors of our market towns. Its is a slightly superfluous ceremony of course. In the day of email and Twitter, the news was around the world within minutes. But such ritual and ceremony has a value far beyond the sharing of information. Such events help us navigate the emotional ups and downs of such news.
The announcement of a new monarch in this public way has a pedigree stretching back into antiquity. In the Roman empire of Jesus’ day heralds would spread out across the empire to bring news, not just of a change of emperor, but of his triumphs. They would often take the form of an announcement – Caesar has vanquished such and such an enemy, internal or external; pax romana is restored; Caesar is Lord.
Knowing that format helps us to see that the proclamation of the Gospel in the New Testament is a subversive parody of a familiar format. It wasn’t the pax romana that was announced but the Kingdom of God, as Jesus did in Mark 1: 14. It wasn’t Caesar is Lord, but Jesus is Lord, as Paul did repeatedly. At a stroke this undermined two fundamental tenets of the Roman system of governance. Power was not the way in which things could be accomplished – love was. What human beings need was not so much a great leader as a great saviour. Ultimate authority didn’t reside with a human being but with God become flesh in Jesus Christ. Those who were charged with the necessary authority to rule should do so recognising that their authority is gift not right, and that they were accountable to God for the exercise of it.
Her majesty the Queen modelled such counterintuitive paradoxes in her own life of service. Her Christmas broadcasts over the years enabled her to give voice to some of these principles.
In 2000 she said, “to many of us our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn comfort from Christ’s words and example.” And, even though she was head of State in numerous countries, and leader of a Commonwealth of nearly 1/3 of the world’s population, in 2011 she said, “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.”
The outpouring of grief and affection that has followed her death says something about how the principles of this kind of life have a deep resonance, even though in a cynical age like ours people, especially leaders, are somewhat embarrassed to live by them. In her understated way her majesty was a superb advocate for the Gospel. She showed that a life focussed on service rather than the self, humility rather than hubris, and love and mutual respect rather than manipulation and control really was life.
Her example gives me hope, that if we, the Church of Jesus Christ, really lived like that, truly lived like the Kingdom is near; submitted our lives to the direction of Jesus Christ more and more, perhaps others would be drawn to this mad, counterintuitive, cross bearing life themselves.
May God give us the grace to keep in step with the Holy Spirit in the days ahead.