A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
Her Majesty the Queen was crowned in Westminster Abbey exactly 60 years ago today – and today we celebrate her Diamond Jubilee- Jubilee – which as the word implies is a cause for jubilation , celebration and memories.
No doubt many people will remember that day with nostalgia, others with mixed feelings because 1953 was obviously one of those post war years when the nation was still attempting to get back on its feet, when memories of the war were still fresh in peoples’ minds and when only middle aged persons remembered anything about having a female monarch in the person of Queen Victoria.
What was being felt by this young woman of 26 as she prepared to shoulder responsibilities that are shared by only a minute number of people in any life time, we shall never really know. However the day started on a positive and jubilant note – the success of the British Mount Everest Expedition was announced , the summit of Mount Everest had been reached for the first time in history and according to Prince Philip’s later comment, nothing could have more inspired the future Queen as she set out for her coronation shortly before 10.30 am .
Twenty six years of age and I wonder then what thoughts went through her mind, I am certain she felt nervous about the responsibility she was about to undertake, responsibilities that in the natural order of things, that would not have been hers to shoulder. But family support, a loving husband , a wise head on her shoulders and total trust in God carried her through what is after all a unique experience for any individual. Truly the words we heard in our first reading this morning from the Book Proverbs, bear testimony to the success of Her Majesty’s reign : Wisdom is more precious than rubies and nothing you desire can compare with her.
The actual Coronation ceremony is in three parts, as some of you witnessed here yesterday – first, the human side – , the promises made by the monarch to carry out the new duties decently and conscientiously; second – consecration followed by the anointing and thirdly, the vesting in the official and symbolic robes, the actual coronation and the enthronement , followed by Holy Communion.
The earliest surviving written rite for the coronation of an English king is of the 9th century. Modifications were made in succeeding generations, mainly in the language used – Anglo Saxon in mediaeval times, Latin up to the time of Elizabeth I and, from the coronation of James 1, English.
The ceremony itself has always included much of the religious – Holy Communion in particular, until of course, James II who, being a Roman Catholic would not communicate and that was omitted from his Coronation ceremony. However with the reign of William and Mary, Communion of the Monarch was restored and an oath was also added to the ceremony, an oath which, after the experience remembered with James II, the Monarch was now called upon to protect and defend the Protestant Faith. It must be remembered that the title Defender of the Faith- meaning Christian and Catholic – was bestowed upon Henry VIII by the Pope, in recognition of Henry’s support of the Pope against Martin Luther’s denial of the doctrine of seven sacraments of the church. This has been an official title of all British Monarch’s since 1544. The additional adjective Protestant has been used only since the Coronation of William and Mary.
The Coronation ceremony includes many symbolic gestures and ornaments- the orb surmounted by a cross, reminding the monarch that Christianity rules the world; the sceptre surmounted by a dove – the Holy Spirit of peace; St Edward’s Sword, the tip of which has been blunted as sign of mercy ; the dalmatic and tunicle – religious ceremonial vestments but with a different emphasis , signifying her role as a representative of Christ’s Church in matters spiritual; and the stole emphasising her role as a servant of God and of the people over whom she reigns.
So you see, as well as a civic occasion, the coronation is a Christian ceremony in a religious setting and a religious context. But the part of the ceremony that says it all for me is one symbolic act that I have so far omitted – the anointing of the monarch with oil. This is a tradition that has been practised by those called to office in the Church of God from time immemorial– the Old Testament contains many references to the anointing of those whom God has chosen : Saul, first king of Israel was anointed by the prophet Samuel – Samuel said to Saul – tell your servant to go ahead of us, but stay here with me so that I may give you a message from God. I am the one the Lord has sent to anoint you king over his people Israel. Then Samuel took a flask of oil, poured it over Saul’s head and kissed him and said: The Lord has anointed you leader over his inheritance.
Similar anointings were bestowed upon King David and later Solomon and this has been the pattern in our tradition from time immemorial – anointing with holy oil that marks them out with an indelible sign that from henceforth they are set apart from profane things and are henceforth conesecratred to the things of God. The anointing with oil symbolises being called and set apart for a Godly purpose – hence Jesus bearing the title Messiah, the Anointed One. Priests and Bishops likewise are anointed at their ordinations- one of the most moving acts of that ceremony. As in Baptism, when the infant is anointed and receives the sign of the cross on its forehead, so too in ordination, and in today’s context at the Coronation, Shakespeare’s words come to mind :
Not all the waters in a rude sea can wash the oil from an anointed king. Once anointed, anointed forever!
Our Queen received her anointing on her head, and her hands – King Richard 1st was stripped to the waist and the oil poured over him so that it trickled down to his nether regions!
Edward VI was laid out full length on the High Altar in Westminster Abbey with Archbishop Cranmer kneeling alongside him as he anointed his back. Consecrated Oil is traditionally kept from one generation to another as an expression of continuity, but of course when Catholic Queen Mary ascended the Throne, she refused to be anointed with protestant oil and ordered a new supply from Rome!
I hope I haven’t made too much of a history lesson in this sermon, but I hope I have been able to share with you a little of the religious background to the event we are celebrating today- an event that has been filled with pomp and ceremony but at its heart shows that, underpinning it all, is the development of God’s purpose for, and support of ,one whom he has chosen and one in whom we can rejoice that she has fulfilled her responsibilities to the glory and honour of His name.
Long may she reign, God save the Queen.