September 10, 2022
On September 8 in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ we heard the words, "The Queen is dead. Long live the King." God had called Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor from this world.
Now it may seem strange for an American to write of the Queen of England, a country from which my own country was born through a war for independence. And I am very proud of my country, or at least certain aspects of it that still remain despite recent cultural tides that have sought to sweep away foundations of part of our liberty. And I honored to have served my country as a commissioned officer and chaplain in her military forces. But having been stationed for some time in England, the home of my ancestors, I came to deeply appreciate the culture, the heritage, indeed the memory embedded in the very stones, the paths and hills, the trees and peoples and in the institutions of that ancient land. The most known, the most visible of them all must be the monarchy, and the only one most of the living have known is that of Queen Elizabeth II.
There is a scene in the Netflix series the Crown, a historical fiction that seeks to portray the story in a way to help us understand what it might have been like to be in Elizabeth's shoes, a scene in which Edward VIII says during the televised coronation -- look -- you take a woman of modest ability and dress her up thus and you have ... a goddess. Well, it is impossible to know if he said anything of the sort. But the script makes a point -- the pageantry, the tradition take a human being and places that human being into an office and in so doing something more is created. Not a goddess...but a queen.
The coronation of the Queen was a Christian liturgy. Deeply embedded into the words and rites are confessions of Christ, His office as prophet priest and king. And no, this earthly monarchy is not designed to supplant or equate to His, but to serve it. There is a book entitled "The Servant Queen and the King She Serves" that testifies to Elizabeth's faith in Christ and how she viewed her office first and primarily not as one of entitled position but of service to Christ and to the people of her realm.
The example of Elizabeth can remind us of much, especially those who hold office. I am thinking not just of rulers and magistrates, but first and primarily that of pastors.
In recent years I have had a number of conversations with fellow old timer pastors, including those who were before me, about something different within the pastorate of our church body, the LCMS. Like Galadriel in the movie the Lord of the rings as she proclaims something has changed, I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. We have felt the same, not quite able to put a finger on it.
But I think perhaps that part of it is this. That somewhere, somehow, for some reason it is being forgotten that the office is greater than the one who holds it. That the office of the ministry is a sacred trust. It is not a position of entitlement or elevation. The office is a position of trust. It is about service.
Queen Elizabeth coronation was televised. But at one point the cameras turned away, at the anointing. The most holy moment of the liturgy. The liturgy is thus:
On the palms of both the hands, saying,
Be thy Hands anointed with holy Oil.
On the breast, saying,
Be thy Breast anointed with holy Oil.
On the crown of the head, saying,
Be thy Head anointed with holy Oil:
as kings, priests, and prophets were anointed:
And as Solomon was anointed king
by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet,
so be thou anointed, blessed, and consecrated Queen
over the Peoples, whom the Lord thy God
hath given thee to rule and govern,
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The sacredness of office, it is something we have forgotten in the former colonies and in much of the west but here it is remembered... the office of earthly monarchs in the west trace their heritage to the first Christian emperors of Rome and is a office, an obligation, a duty of service to God and God's people.
Now, the problem is that when we think of kings and queens we think too often of tyrannts. Of Mary Queen of Scots who murdered her husband and so many others, of Henry VIII who killed wife after wife, of Edward VIII who had an affair with a married woman (one of many) who he'd later marry. Or even George III who our founding fathers saw as a tryannt in his rule over the colonies. This and the examples of so many who have had the power of monarch, emperor, or dictator (think Hitler) has lead us to see such office as a grave threat to life and liberty. The fault lies not in the office but in the person who holds it. Human beings are sinners and when sinful corruption is tied to power bad things happen to people.
The contemporary monarchy of England is different. The monarch hold not power, no authority to command, no ability to raise tax or declare war. The monarch represents memory and service. And while the monarchy shapes the person who holds it, the person who holds it shapes the monarchy and its perception. Queen Elizabeth is honored as one who restored a vision to the monarchy of service, of sacrifice, of honor, of putting her people before herself and her office before herself. This is her legacy. I believe it will enshrined into memory.
It would be well if pastors would remember. Remember the office is greater than the man who holds. The office is more important than the man who holds it. Let the man be diminished rather than the office. Let pastor remember we serve the King who is Lord of Lords and king of Kings, who is the one true prophet, priest and king, and he calls us to not be served but to serve God's people.