A sermon given by The Most Reverend Geoffrey Smith, Archbishop of Adelaide and Metropolitan of South Australia, to mark the Platinum Anniversary of the Accession of Her Majesty the Queen

Luke 22.24-30

Lord, among my words may we hear your word for our life, and may we have the grace to accept it and put it into practice. Amen.

Each year the 6th of February must be a day of mixed emotions for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. This is the day she became queen, but it is also the anniversary of her father’s death.

Upon hearing of the death of George VI, Elizabeth spoke bravely from South Africa in the midst of that sadness and said:

‘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.’

Today we celebrate and give thanks to God for the past seventy years during which Her Majesty has fulfilled her commitment. Much has changed in that time. The empire is no more. The number of countries over which she is monarch has reduced. There have been crisis at home, within her family and throughout the Commonwealth, and yet through it all Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth has remained resolutely committed to her duty in a joyful, faithful and generous way. She is currently the oldest and longest serving head of state in the world, and she is our queen.

Hers is a role which takes incredible perseverance and focus and has been costly. Difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions have had to be made, she has been away from family from long periods of time, she never really has a day off, and there is very little privacy. Being the monarch is a job I don’t think many people would want for three or four years, let alone seventy.

While some of Her Majesty’s success can probably be attributed to her nature and the example of her parents, who themselves provided incredible leadership, especially during the crisis of World War II, there is another part to the story that is very important.

In her Christmas message of 2000, Her Majesty 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 great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example”.

Of great significance in Her Majesty’s resolute and faithful service is her Christian faith – the teaching of Christ, and her own personal accountability before God. Not only Christ’s teaching but his example. His example of love, generosity, forgiveness and self-giving.

In the third of the bible readings for today, from Luke’s gospel chapter 22, is an account of a dispute between followers of Jesus as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. This kind of rivalry is not uncommon among people. In human culture common motivations are position, power and wealth.

The disciples were jostling to determine who among the group would be closest to Jesus, to what they mistakenly thought would be power and honour and a position of privilege.

Jesus’ response was incredibly counter cultural for his time. He said: ‘The kings of the gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so among you; rather the greatest among you must be like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. I am among you as one who serves’.

That was Jesus’ teaching, and his example backs it up. He gave his energy, his love and finally his life. Not for his own sake or benefit, but for the good of the world. He said, ‘I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly’. That was the point of his life – to bring abundant life to others.

Jesus’ teaching was very counter cultural in his day. People did not aspire to serve. That was not a great life goal – to be a servant to others. People aspired to power and honour. Jesus’ teaching was counter cultural then, and is today, even in a society which has been profoundly shaped by Christianity.

It is right for us today to be commemorating Her Majesty’s incredibly faithful service, but I think in a way her service prompts us to reflect. I want to suggest three reflections.

The Queen has made and hopefully will continue to make a really positive contribution to millions of lives because of her attitude of service. But she is just one person. The needs of the world are beyond one person – even the Queen. Even before COVID-19, the needs of the community were manifest. So many people lonely, feeling hopeless and alone, hurt and damaged; missing out on what many others have. COVID-19 has made this even worse with lives and livelihoods lost, or put at risk.

There are big and complex problems all around us, but actually all of us can make a difference in our own sphere. If we have the attitude of service shown by Jesus and embraced by the Queen, we can all make a difference which counts. In some ways it’s easy to hold the Queen up today and say what a great job she has done, but to do that means we need to face the question -and you? And I? What have we each done with the opportunities we have been given by God to serve others?

We each have to face that question? We each have the opportunity to serve – to serve our family, our friends our communities. Encouraged by the example of Christ we each have the chance to make a difference, not by pursuing power or prestige or honour, but by seeking the good of others, to help and assist the lives of other individuals and communities to be better.

That might sound grand, so the second reflection is a bit of a reality check. Serving is often costly. Not only does it go against the human grain; having an attitude of service usually involves inconvenience and perhaps difficult choices. If our attitude is to serve, we won’t be doing what suits us all the time.

Jesus gave his life. Throughout his ministry of service we see him being misunderstood, personally attacked and undermined, inconvenienced and troubled. In the end, his life of service cost him rejection and humiliation, suffering and death. Service does not come without cost. It has cost the Queen and will cost anyone who takes up that burden.

And third, all of us who seek to serve – to genuinely serve others, not our own ambition, need a framework within which to do that, since to serve runs counter to much of human nature and the culture of our society. For billions of people around the world the teaching and example of Christ provide a framework within which to structure life, including service of others. There has to be a driver, a motivation which keeps us going when times get tough. For the Queen the framework is the teaching and example of Christ.

As we give thanks today for the Queen it is an opportunity for us to consider what it is that drives us. What is our framework of meaning? The life and teaching of Jesus Christ provides a framework, a reality, a motivation, that is not only life giving for those who embrace it, but by extension to those who are blessed by the those who embrace it.

Today we acknowledge and commemorate seventy years of service by the Queen, our sister in Christ. Though it began in sad circumstances, and today will probably be a reflective time for her, the past seventy years have been absolutely exceptional. In May last year Newsweek reported a poll in the previous month in which the Queen had an 85% approval rating in the UK. I am sure many of our leaders would love to have that kind of approval rating after three years let alone seventy.

And why does she have that kind of approval rating? Surely one reason is because she has served those she reigns over. She has served; inspired and strengthened by her faith in Jesus Christ.

As we celebrate this platinum anniversary and give thanks to God for it, may Her Majesty’s service be an example to us, not just a benefit. May we all seek to serve as we can, making the most of the opportunities we have, that others may have life and have it abundantly.