I vividly remember the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2nd June 1953 – if my maths is correct, I was nine years old. At the time my parents did not have a television – so we spent the day in the home of my mother’s cleaner, watching her television. And what an exciting day it was! There were thousands of soldiers, sailors, and airmen from every Commonwealth country marching through the streets, with military band after military band playing stirring music. Carriages galore took the dignitaries to and from Westminster Abbey – including the Queen of Tonga who insisted on sitting in an open carriage, in spite of the rain.
The Queen looked absolute stunning. She wore a white silk dress embroidered with the floral emblems of the countries of the Commonwealth at the time: the Tudor rose of England, the Scots thistle, the Welsh leek, the Irish shamrock for Northern Ireland, the wattle of Australia, the maple leaf of Canada, the New Zealand fern, South Africa’s protea, two lotus flowers for India and Ceylon, and wheat, cotton and jute symbolizing Pakistan.
In the service she was presented with a Bible by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland – “to keep your Majesty ever mindful of the law and the Gospel of God”. The Archbishop Fisher then made a cross on the Queen’s forehead with oil made from the same base as that which had been used in the coronation of her father, King George VI – this anointing was considered so sacrosanct that it took place under a special canopy, concealing the ceremony from the sight of television viewers. Then came the highlight of the service – the coronation itself, with the crown of St Edward was placed on her head. The peers of the realm paid their allegiance and the assembly shouted out: “God save Queen Elizabeth! Long live Queen Elizabeth! May the Queen live for ever!” Significantly at this point the Queen removed all her royal regalia, and took communion, which included the general confession – perhaps a reminder that before God all are equal. Finally, now wearing the Imperial State Crown, and holding the Sceptre with the Cross and the Orb, the national anthem was sung and the Queen left Westminster Abbey.
Now here we are, 60 years later. Although not all of us may be die-hard monarchists, nonetheless I believe that we can all thank God for the stability and the unity that the Queen has provided for our country and indeed the commonwealth over the many years of her reign. The Queen will not “live for ever” – like all of us she is mortal, and will become increasingly subject to the frailties of old age. But what strength of Christian character she has shown – this came yet again to the forefront in last’s year’s Christmas speech where she spoke of the way Jesus “has inspired people to commit themselves to the best interests of others.”
On this 60th anniversary of her coronation, I suggest we heed the injunction of the Apostle Paul to pray for “kings and all others who are in authority” (1 Tim 2.1) by using a prayer found in the Prayer Book of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia:
God, the source of all authority, bless our queen, Elizabeth, her family and the family of nations she upholds may she remain a worthy focus of our loyalty, and point us unfailingly to a higher commonwealth, the true humanity to which she and all her subjects owe allegiance; for you are the God of nations; you are our God.