My article for the June Crossways newsletter for St Paul’s Church Spennymoor and Whitworth Church.
If you were to describe Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, what words would you use? I’m sure one word that would come to mind would be: service.
In her 21st birthday radio address, before she was queen, Princess Elizabeth said this:
I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.
This was reaffirmed in her first Christmas message as queen, in 1952:
At my Coronation next June, I shall dedicate myself anew to your service. … You will be keeping it as a holiday; but I want to ask you all, whatever your religion may be, to pray for me on that day – to pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.
Rulers haven’t always had this attitude. The famous parody of English history, 1066 and All That, contains descriptions like this: ‘George III was a Bad King.’ Of course, it is too simple to divide people into Good and Bad: ‘No one is good – except God alone’ (Mark 10:18), and ‘there is no one who does not sin’ (1 Kings 8:46). But there have been plenty of ‘Bad Kings’ and rulers throughout history: people who exploit others for their own enjoyment.
Where does the Queen’s attitude of service come from?
It is not difficult to find the answer. Time and again the Queen points to Jesus Christ. The Queen’s faith in Jesus constantly shines out, as in her 2014 Christmas message:
For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life.
In her 2012 Christmas message, she said this:
This is the time of year when we remember that God sent his only Son ‘to serve, not to be served’.
The Queen was quoting from Mark chapter 10. Jesus’ disciples had been jostling with each other for a place of glory in his kingdom. But Jesus said this (in verses 42-45):
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
It is when we see Jesus on the cross that we see what it means to rule in a Christlike way. It means being willing to lay down your life for others.
As we celebrate seventy years of public service, let us follow the example of Queen Elizabeth, and the example of her Lord, Jesus Christ, in dedicating ourselves to the service of God and our fellow human beings.