+ ‘Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, And lighten with celestial fire. Thou the anointing Spirit art, Who dost thy seven-fold gifts impart’.
We love anniversaries, silver, golden, diamond and platinum Jubilees and wedding anniversaries. When preparing couples for marriage I enjoy asking them at what point in the service they actually get married. Is it the vows, the signing of the register or the giving of rings? If you are married, look back and think what was the most important moment in the service?
Today, two significant events are celebrated. The descent of the Holy Spirit on Mary and the Apostles as they waited in in Jerusalem, and the seventieth anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth. For the second of these, this is a weekend for parties and concerts, for meals together like the one we will go to after this service. It is a thing to celebrate, a Monarch whose first Prime Minister was Churchill and who has led this country for decades with quiet dignity and deep Christian faith. Prime Ministers govern, but the Queen is a quiet presence at the heart of the nation and a living symbol of its identity.
As I thought about this, I wondered not about the surface, what people see about the Queen, in the news and in the Netflix series ‘The Crown’, nor even about the quiet faith and sense of duty, but about where the things we are celebrating this weekend actually come from. Her Majesty is Supreme Governor of the Church of England but in Scotland, partly for political reasons, she attends the Church of Scotland. Her mother, however, was a Scottish Episcopalian, growing up attending our liturgy in her family chapel at Glamis. It is in the Liturgy that we find the source of what we celebrate today and there we see it fitting perfectly with the feast of Pentecost.
Thinking back to the question, when in the service did you get married, Princess Elizabeth became Queen when her father died in February 1952, but this weekend of celebration is built on the date of her coronation, 2 June 1953. If you look at the Order of the Coronation you will see that it is a Eucharist, just as we are celebrating today, but after the Creed a remarkable thing happens. You can see it on the film of the Coronation. While Handel’s Zadok the priest is sung, the Queen is stripped of her robes and, dressed in a simple white dress, is led to the throne. Four Knights of the Garter emerge carrying a canopy to place over her and the camera moves away.
This is the most sacred part of the ceremony. It begins with the hymn ‘Come Holy Ghost’, which we sang at the beginning today, and culminated in the Queen being anointed with Holy Oil by the Archbishop. He said, ‘O Lord and heavenly Father,
the exalter of the humble and the strength of thy chosen, who by anointing with Oil didst of old make and consecrate kings, priests, and prophets… bless and sanctify thy chosen servant ELIZABETH… Strengthen her, O Lord, with the Holy Ghost the Comforter; Confirm and stablish her with thy free and princely Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom and government, the Spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the Spirit of knowledge and true godliness, and fill her, O Lord, with the Spirit of thy holy fear [these are the seven-fold gifts of the Spirit in Isaiah]… Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who by his Father was anointed with the Oil of gladness… by his holy anointing pour down upon your head and heart the blessing of the Holy Spirit… that by the assistance of his heavenly grace you may govern and preserve the Peoples committed to your charge.’
At the heart of the Coronation is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a continuation of the event of Pentecost. The Queen is then dressed in golden vestments like a priest and given the symbols of her office, just as the giving of a ring in a wedding symbolises the vows made. It is thus very appropriate that we give thanks for the Queen’s Jubilee today. At the heart of everything we celebrate about her, everything simple and virtuous, are hidden sacred rites, using signs and symbols that speak of the hidden power of the Holy Spirit who enabled the Apostles to undo the curse of the tower of Babel and preach the good news of the Kingdom in all the languages of the world.
As we celebrate our own sacred rites here today, and eat our jubilee lunch, let us give thanks for the Christian ministry of Her Majesty the Queen as an anointed monarch, and pray that the same Spirit may be alive and active in our lives to inspire us to serve others with fidelity and love.