Sermon preached in Lincoln Cathedral by the Dean, the Very Revd Philip Buckler at the Service for the Diamond Jubilee of H.M.The Queen, 19th May 2012
We gather here this afternoon as a County and Diocese to offer thanks to Almighty God for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as she celebrates sixty years of her reign. We celebrate her Diamond Jubilee in this Cathedral Church wherein lie mortal remains of an earlier Queen, Eleanor of Castile, wife to Edward I. She died nearby at Harby and her body was brought here, her visceral remains interred in this Cathedral before her body began its famous journey to Westminster Abbey where her funeral was taken by the then Bishop of Lincoln, Oliver Sutton.
Also buried here is Katherine Swynford, third wife of John of Gaunt. From their union is descended our Royal Family today. So we have an extra claim to share in today’s celebrations.
The date chosen for our rejoicing is the Feast of St Dunstan, the 10th C Archbishop of Canterbury who compiled the coronation rite for Edgar, king of England in 973, the rite still in use in 1953 at Her Majesty’s Coronation in Westminster Abbey.
But Dunstan was also a cultured person, a craftsman and musician. He is associated with many crafts, not least that of jewellery. So today, as we mark a Jubilee called ‘Diamond’ we reflect upon that gem as it speaks to us of these past sixty years of faithful service by our Monarch.
Like a diamond her reign has shone and sparkled in many different ways – the light of history reflecting countless events in which she has been the figurehead for our nation and over which her wise counsel has prevailed.
But the strength of a diamond is something we can also recognise in the sheer devotion to duty that has exemplified this reign. The coronation oath has been her guide and rule. Her own steadfastness through a time of unparalleled change has been something of a rule by which society may also measure itself.
The beginning of this second Elizabethan age looked very different to the society we see around us today. Over these 60 years many customs and traditions have changed, values have altered. We have more freedoms to enjoy as well as to enslave us. The role of work, of leisure, of family and faith – all these have altered beyond recognition. Rights seem to have replaced duties, life looks very different at every level.
Yet despite all this, and sitting above yet not isolated from it, is the monarchy. Indeed Her Majesty’s refusal to sway this way and that has at times earned criticism. Yet we have watched her and her family experience not only the delights but also the pains of modern mores.
Historians will be better able to judge this age than can we, but we may observe the change from Empire to Commonwealth, from an inherited class system to a more modern multi-cultural society.
Such changes were all heralded with fear and foreboding, yet throughout them all the Queen has remained steadfast, yet not entirely unchanging. Her own alteration and adaptation has been achieved slowly yet surely, not with the shrill clamour of the populist but with the discreet development of one who holds the larger picture and seeks the balance of truth.
This is due to her profound faith, personal yet public. She has increasingly alluded to this in a quiet but definite way over recent years. In her Millennium Christmas message she said: The teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to live my life.
Accountability has become a fashionable word in recent times – but it tends to mean being answerable to the media spotlight. Her Majesty’s example points us to a more profound way of life – one that is answerable to God our Creator and Redeemer.
Of course we pray for her every day. And that is no slight matter – as any here who have known the powerful sense of others praying for them will acknowledge.
She has inherited the title Defender of the Faith as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Again she has made clear the importance of this role and how she sees it as integral to the life of a changed and multi-cultural society.
At the start of this Jubilee Year she spoke to the leaders of the faith communities in this country saying
Faith plays a key role in the identity of many millions of people, providing not only a system of belief but also a sense of belonging. It can act as a spur for social action. Indeed religious groups have a proud track record of helping those in the greatest need, including the sick, the elderly, the lonely and the disadvantaged. They remind us of the responsibilities we have beyond ourselves.
The responsibilities we have beyond ourselves – a keynote of the monarchy as we see it today. Not as it has always been by any means, and not as so often proves the case with power and leadership across our world. Those forced to persuade others of their right to govern have a tendency to persuade themselves and to end up serving themselves rather than their people. Beginning with a concern for inequalities they can end up concerned solely for themselves: accountable to their own interests rather than something higher.
To have what others strive after and yet to know the value of what really matters is a truth she offers to us all. To her shrewd judgement and informed counsel many of our most senior politicians will testify. To her deep concern for other nations the Heads of our Commonwealth countries will bear witness. Again she understands the meaning and depth of symbols and traditions, both homely and foreign. As Archbishop Rowan reflected of her faith Our Christian faith tells us that no-one flourishes unless all flourish….. Strong Christian faith should be the guarantee for the well-being of all.
Like a number here I have been privileged to see the monarchy at work in many and various ways. It has always struck me how events or groups who welcome a royal visit find their attention beforehand consumed by concern for the occasion, but find the attention is drawn back to their purpose by the skilful interest expressed by the Queen in the project before her. The diamond draws attention but reflects the brightness and beauty back to the purpose in hand. So she reflects the light of interest and concern back on her people and their work – however humble it may be.
As monarch she has shared both the joys and sorrows of her people – and this gift is immeasurable by our common standards of value.
Today we have much for which to thank God. We acknowledge and honour a sovereign who has not only done her duty before God, but has done it faithfully and well. Like Solomon, from the very start of her reign she has sought the wisdom of God to be her guide. She has followed her faith and the teaching of Our Lord who said
whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’
Perhaps the last words should be those of a contemporary observer of society, the leading journalist Andrew Marr who wrote in his book ‘Diamond Queen’ simply this:
She has been dutiful, but she has been a lot more than dutiful. She has been shrewd, kind and wise. Britain without her would have been a greyer, shriller, more meagre place.