Bradley Smith exhorts prayer of and for the Sovereign
Around 100 members of The Prayer Book Society were gathered at Liverpool Hope University for their annual conference when the news of Her Late Majesty’s death was announced. As we assembled for Evensong, the news from Balmoral was deeply concerning; we were invited to pray for Her Majesty’s good health, and we sang, for the last time, ‘God save the Queen’. Barely an hour later, Bishop Humphrey Southern had what he later described as the ‘heavy duty’ of pronouncing the solemn words ‘The Queen is dead. Long live the King.’
The memory of that moment will forever move me; but it was not until we returned home from the conference that the reality began to sink in. Only then did I begin to appreciate what a privilege it had been to pray, morning and evening in my Daily Office, almost every day of my adult life, the petition ‘O Lord, save the Queen’.
Noting that our ‘Servant Queen’ died on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary stuck me powerfully. Both Her Late Majesty and Our Blessed Lady willingly accepted God’s plan for their lives: Mary to be the Mother of Jesus; Elizabeth to be our Queen. Either could have said ‘no’, but both said ‘yes’ and embraced the cost of their calling.
In the Prayer for the King’s Majesty, which the Book of Common Prayer expects to be said daily, we are reminded that the Sovereign is not only a person of authority, but also a person under authority. The authority that the Monarch possesses is limited in that it is subordinate to the authority of Almighty God whom the prayer acknowledges as the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the only Ruler of Princes. We know all too well that when earthly rulers do not recognise the authority of God, and believe themselves free to act as they will, society is turned upside down and prosperity, peace, and godliness are destroyed.
The second of the two Collects for the Sovereign, appointed to be read at each and every celebration of Holy Communion according to the Prayer Book, reinforces the point that the Sovereign’s authority is subordinate to that of God’s: Almighty and everlasting God, we are taught by thy holy word, that the hearts of Kings are in thy rule and governance, and that thou dost dispose and turn them as it seemeth best to thy godly wisdom.
Her Late Majesty the Queen recognised God’s sovereign authority over her life and reign, and indeed over all creation. She looked to the teachings of Jesus as her guide and inspiration in all things, as she said so many times in her Christmas Day broadcasts. At the heart of the Christian understanding of monarchy there is the inseparable connection between sovereignty and servanthood. We see this chiefly in the person Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve. Her Late Majesty always sought to model her life on His example of service.
‘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. But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.’
These are words spoken by the then Princess Elizabeth on her twenty-first birthday. They are words of genuine humility spoken by one who recognised the enormity of the vocation entrusted to her. By the grace of God, and with the support of her people, she did indeed make good her vow; she cheerfully carried out the promises she made in Westminster Abbey; she faithfully served both God and us until the end of her life on earth.
Whatever her own personal or family circumstances, and whatever darkness or disaster may have surrounded her, her family, the nation or the world, Her Late Majesty kept her eyes fixed on Jesus, and never lost sight of her calling to serve. We join with countless others in heartfelt thanks to Almighty God for her long and glorious reign, for her service and devotion to duty, and above all for her living faith in God which was central to her life. And we continue to pray for her, for to pray for our beloved dead is a mark of our love. Death cannot extinguish love.
Like his late mother, His Majesty the King is a man of living faith. A weighty burden of responsibility has been handed to him. It is one that he cannot carry without the prayerful support of his people, and I believe he knows that. Inspired by Scripture, the Prayer Book takes seriously our Christian duty to pray for those in authority. There can surely be no better way of honouring Her Late Majesty’s memory than to pray for her heir. May he, like his late mother, keep his eyes fixed on Jesus, the King of Kings; may God be his defender and keeper; and may truth and justice, holiness and righteousness, peace and charity abound in his days.
God save the King.
Bradley Smith is Chairman of
the Prayer Book Society.