Yesterday was the Diamond Anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth IIs accession to the thrones of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Christians in these countries and throughout the Commonwealth thanked God for her sixty years of service, remembering St. Pauls admonition to pray for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and godly lives in all quietness and holiness. In the Great White North, for example, Robert Bugbee, president of Lutheran Church-Canada expressed the gratitude of the church in a letter to the Queen: We wish you to know, he wrote, that we acknowledge your reign as an undeserved gift from God Himself, and count it a joy to name you in our public prayers on many occasions in our parishes across the country.
That might strike some people as odd”especially those in the United States of America. The Queens role is largely ceremonial, it is often said. So for what aspect of her reign are we thanking God? What authority does she actually exercise?
Perhaps the simplest answer is the Queens private influence on other leaders. While the Queen is careful not to express her political opinions publicly, that does not mean she wields no political power. As an adviser, she has tremendous influence. When they are both in London, she holds private, weekly meetings with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. She often meets privately with the Privy Council of the United Kingdom (a six hundred-member body of political leaders, lords, archbishops, and others”though, in practice, a much smaller number of these leaders are invited to any given meeting.)
I doubt that there are many leaders who would scoff at the opportunity for such advice. The Queen has served now for sixty years, has seen the rise and fall of numerous governments, has reigned in peace-time and in war, and is the most widely travelled head of state in the world. And over the past sixty years, she has seen the radical transformation of the world in so many ways”politically, socially, technologically, and religiously. She is keenly aware of current events, studying daily, for example, the proceedings of the British parliament.
In short, when the Queen advises you, you really ought to pay attention.
Of course, while the Queen may be a wise adviser to government, much of her official power remains largely ceremonial. But what is wrong with a monarch whose role is largely ceremonial? The way some commentators speak, youd think a queen without power is one of the seven deadly sins of political systems.
Having a monarch separate from the political system has the wonderful effect of distinguishing national identity from the governing political party. Canadians know that the Queen is the Queen of Canada regardless of which party is in power. In that way, she becomes a symbol of unity”Canadian identity is not, her position reminds us, bound up with the particular political persuasion of those currently governing. Canadians are Canadian regardless of who is serving as Prime Minister. Likewise, Britons are British no matter who leads Parliament.
Thats one of the reasons why youll seldom here political leaders north of the border referring to others as un-Canadian”except when they begin to make discriminatory, divisive remarks. Unity is paramount; its an ideal weve treasured since the birth of our nation. While the American Declaration glorifies life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Canadians at their founding devoted themselves instead to peace, order, and good government.
The Queen”even if her power is primarily ceremonial”helps maintain that unity. By fulfilling her duties faithfully and diligently, by being a good and gracious role model who does not get caught up in partisan politics, she encourages her subjects to live in unity. In short, she helps bring about exactly what St. Paul tells us a good monarch should: an environment in which we may live peaceful and godly lives.
As she does so, Queen Elizabeth II quietly calls us to remember Christ and the reconciliation he won for us, encouraging us to make that forgiveness the basis for our loving one another”the cause for which we give up our animosity and live in peace. She expressed it well in her 2011 Christmas Address:
Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves”from our recklessness or our greed. 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 Gods love.
And so, while Americans squabble over party politics, I join the throng in Canada and abroad”diverse though we may be”in thanking God for his servant Queen Elizabeth II. And Ill sing with gusto when the time comes: God save our gracious Queen! Long live our noble Queen! God save the Queen!
Mathew Block is manager of communications for Lutheran Church“Canada and editor of The Canadian Lutheran magazine. He is on Twitter as @captainthin .
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