Jonathan Baker reports on the first – and possibly only – Platinum Jubilee Service of Thanksgiving
What a joy to be in St Paul’s Cathedral on 3rd June for the Platinum Jubilee Service, what a privilege: worth every moment of the nearly three-hour interval between clearing security (a remarkably smooth and unfussy process) and the service getting underway. That long interlude in the Dean’s Aisle had its own compensations: not only the opportunity to catch up with the panoply of prebends (hurrah for our own life-freeholder, Prebendary Hugh Moore!) and the full set of Archdeacons, but also to glimpse numerous tantalising conversations. Here the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, there the Sub-Dean of the Chapels Royal, in between them the Coptic and Greek Orthodox Archbishops, perhaps resolving, finally, the precise relationship of the two natures in the one Person of Christ.
The music was wonderful, just as we knew it would be. I Was Glad was the only possible Introit and had lost none of its power to rouse and to stir. The hymns were traditional without being dull. I rather liked the newly composed anthem by the Master of The Queen’s Music; not everyone did. It was an inspired choice to have a work by the late Francis Jackson – was this a signal that 104 years is a perfectly unremarkable lifespan, thank you very much? The final singing of the National Anthem was almost too much: affection, respect, awe, and (let us be honest) a little trepidation about the future poured into one, all too brief, magnificent verse.
There was a good deal to feed the presses for days to come. Where would the Sussexes sit? Who would speak to them? What would the Royal ladies be wearing? What about the Prime Minister and that reading? What about his arrival at the steps of St Paul’s? Despite all the attention that those things inevitably received, I think that, if you were there, or if you watched the whole thing through on television, you would know that none of them was the real story, by no means.
Why were we there? What was it all about? Well two reasons, surely. First, to give thanks for the preservation of our remarkable United Kingdom constitution which puts all things, via the oaths taken and the spiritual gifts bestowed on our Sovereign, under the authority of a power greater than themselves. Crown, parliament, the law, the armed forces, the civil powers: none of these, in our system, can claim ultimate supremacy, all depend on the divine will, all are, in the end, accountable to God. That is an extraordinary state of affairs to have persisted almost into the second quarter of the twenty-first century, and it is a blessing we, in our four nations in one Kingdom, must never take for granted.
Then we were there to give thanks for the response which one woman has made steadfastly and without equivocation, over 70 years and more, to God’s call on her life. We were there to celebrate Christian vocation fulfilled in the life and example of Her Majesty the Queen. The Archbishop of York had it absolutely spot on when he said in his sermon that our Queen is a sovereign who has been able to serve the nation faithfully because of her own faith in Jesus Christ, a faith which elsewhere in the address he described as a ‘fountain’ and a ‘well.’ The news bulletins replayed endlessly the references, charming or demotic according to your taste, to the Queen being ‘still in the saddle’ and running the Grand National rather than the Derby; but in the largely unreported parts of the sermon, the Primate of England deserves congratulations for putting Jesus Christ and faith in him front and centre – and by challenging the rest of the congregation to do the same. I hope, if I can say this without fear of losing my head, that the Duke of Cambridge was listening attentively at this point, for here was guidance as to how he might embrace his solemn and sacred duties, pray God many years hence.
The best outfit on show? Surely the Lord Mayor, decked out in ducal robes, but alas robbed of the chance (because of Her Majesty’s indisposition) of himself carrying the Pearl Sword. And a close second, the Lord Mayor’s chaplain, resplendent in purple ferraiolo. Though the Duchess of Cambridge looked terrific too (if that doesn’t land me in the Tower).
Seriously – congratulations to all at the cathedral whose hard work and attention to detail resulted in such a glorious celebration; a fitting climax to David Ison’s sure-footed and gracious tenure as Dean. All of us at New Directions wish David every blessing in his retirement.