Neo’s post yesterday was a deserved tribute to a Head of State who, unlike many others, attracts no opprobrium and who has no axes to grind or agenda to pursue. She is Queen by Grace of God, and as a practising Anglican she takes that seriously; this is, for her, a sacred trust and she cannot just hand it over because she feels tired or would like a more restful life. She has, of course, the example of her uncle David before her, the Edward VIII, who found he could not discharge his duty without the woman he loved by his side, and slipped off into gilded exile and a life of pointless hedonism. Ironically, he might be said to represent the modern way of being; what mattered to him were his feelings and his personal fulfilment; that it all ended as it did, on a dying fall, in a life which achieved nothing, with the great gifts he had been given going to waste, might not surprise those such as the Queen who find that duty is a better guide to a life well-lived.
Duty is much out of fashion in our world. It has connotations of the things the world most hates – self-denial and even self-sacrifice, with no thought of reward. What’s the deal, it seems to say? I live this one life I have for others? What about the most important person in the world, ME? Who lives for ME?’ The Christian message tells us this is not the only life, and that we do not live it for ourselves except in what, to the secular mind, seems the oddest way. Here, in this vale of tears, we prepare ourselves for the life of the world to come, and hope, pray and work that we might be fit for it. That does not mean that we can, in any wise, merit our salvation, but it does mean we can witness to the mercy and the grace we have received by following the example of the Lord through whom we are redeemed.
In the case of the Queen, this has meant a life of service to the country. It would be easy, which is why it happens so often, for the cynic to say how nice it must be to have all your wants supplied in return for duties which are often largely ceremonial; but as usual, the cynic misses the point. The Queen is a symbol of national unity, and her very longevity in an age of such rapid change has helped hold together a nation which otherwise might have found itself bewildered by it. That she is a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother enables people far removed from her to find points of identification; being Queen does not mean your children make fairy-tale marriages and live happily ever after.
But through the bad times and the good, through the long journey from Empire, through decolonisation, Europe and now Brexit, there is one constant – Queen Elizabeth II. She is a reminder that our system of government is not merely secular. At her coronation she was anointed with sacred oil, and she consecrated herself in God’s presence to the service of the nation. She does it not for herself, but because she told God she would do it. God’s response we can see daily. We shall not, unless we are very fortunate, look on her like again – so God save the Queen!