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As good as it gets

[This post is courtesy of Phillip Jensen, Dean of St Andrew's Cathedral in Sydney.]

“This is as good as it gets” the man assured me. I was initially shocked, but then deeply saddened by his statement. It was an astonishing statement—but there was no doubting the sincerity with which he was speaking.

It was the night before the Commonwealth Day Service in the Cathedral. Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Prince Edward were all to be present. We had been engaged in difficult negotiations for months, as the different vested interests tried to dictate how we should run the service. To their annoyance, there was no way we would budge from faithfulness to Christ and the ministry of the gospel. A repetition of the multi-faith and Christless service conducted each year in Westminster Abbey was totally unsuitable. But the gathering had to express the values and diversity of the Commonwealth of Nations. So we constructed a new liturgy that would satisfy the requirements of the Palace, the Commonwealth office, the Federal and State governments, while maintaining our own integrity as servants of the gospel of Jesus. We had worked through innumerable meetings and roadblocks and come up with a solution that had gained acceptance from all parties involved. Or at least I thought we had. But at the rehearsal on the night before the big day the conflicts arose again—this time over the seating!

Members of the Cathedral, even Chapter members, were tolerated but not really welcome. More than that, ‘important people’ were desperate not only to be present but also to gain the best seats. The protocol, which preserved and established the hierarchy of office bearers, was being tested to the maximum. Does a Supreme Court Judge sit ahead of the Lord Mayor or behind? Does a community leader sit in front or behind a pillar? It mattered little that many of these people were publically known to be opposed to monarchy—be it Queen Elizabeth II or the Lord Jesus Christ. They were very keen to be present, and to be seen to be present, on this occasion and even, hopefully, to meet the Queen.

When I expressed my surprise that people were so desperate to secure their place, one of the protocol officers explained the crush to me. He reasoned that for many people this was the high point of their life. “This is as good as it gets!” he assured me. I frankly, was astonished. Surely there is more to life than this. Surely there is more in any person’s life than meeting the Queen—or sitting fifteen rows behind her! But he was not joking, or ridiculing the people who thought like this. He believed it of them and I wondered if he believed it for himself as well.

It is right and proper that Christians should uphold those in government over them. And this duty goes for the ungodly and unjust rulers as well as those who acknowledge God and rule with equity and peace for the good of all. We are to pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1ff) and, more than that, submit to and honour them (Romans 13:1ff, 1 Peter 2:13ff). Indeed Peter commands us to “Honour the emperor”, while Paul wrote of paying respect and honour to those to whom it was owed (1 Peter 2:17, Romans 13:8).

Duty and honour are generally not virtues we value. They require self-discipline and submission. We prefer virtues like freedom and generosity because they are not imposed upon us but determined by us. Even Christians are easily seduced into preferring the easy virtues our society values rather than the hard ones the Bible teaches. Yet, duty and honour are virtues that are deeply appropriate to the citizens of the Kingdom of God and subjects of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Honouring our Queen because she is God’s appointed ruler over us, may seem strange when she is a constitutional monarch who lives seventeen thousand kilometres away. Yet, this is the present constitutional arrangement of our nation. Whether we are republican, monarchist, democrats or constitutionally indifferent does not change the fact that at present Elizabeth II is “By the Grace of God, the Queen of Australia”, and, therefore, we have a duty to honour her.

Honouring the office is made easier by the honourable and dutiful way that the present office-bearer has undertaken her responsibilities. Queen Elizabeth has been, and continues to be, an example of honour and duty. At a time of life when most of us retire, she continues to work diligently, without any indication of stopping. Furthermore, her integrity seems to be based in a deep personal Christian faith. Last Christmas she made this so clear when she said that,

“God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.

“Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.

“It is my prayer that on this Christmas Day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.”

Next week is the official celebration of her Diamond Jubilee, marking her 60 year reign. St Andrew’s Cathedral will mark this occasion with a special celebration at 10:30am. Again ‘important people’ will visit us, though the whole Cathedral congregation will be welcome, especially to welcome our visitors, and I don’t expect there will be any clash over seating!

For some people, to be in the presence the queen, was as good as it gets. But we Christians know that daily we come into the presence of the king of kings, and that is as good as it gets.

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