Sermon for Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee
Revd Leah Vasey-Saunders, Vicar of Lancaster.
2nd June 2022
Our reading today reminds us of the very highest ideals of what it means to be a leader. Jesus, hearing his disciples quarrelling over which of them was the greatest, tells them that anyone who would follow him must follow a very different example to that of the rulers they saw around them: the Roman Governor, Herod the King of Judea, the Chief Priests. These were rulers who demanded and received unquestioning respect from their subjects, who sat in the highest seats, with the power of life and death over the servants and slaves in their households. No-one who entered their presence could be left in any doubt as to who was the greatest person there. And their courts would be marked by clear gradations of power, from the greatest ones in seats near the ruler to the lowliest who had no seat, but stood and served.
This is the image in the back of the disciples’ minds as Jesus speaks to them. They know that he is the Messiah, the king sent from God. One day soon, they are sure, he will come into his kingdom, will sit in the highest seat in his court, with them alongside him at his right and his left. So Jesus asks them – ‘Who is greater? The one with a seat at the table, or the one with no set who is there to serve?’ The answer is obvious to everyone. But then Jesus punctures the daydream: ‘But I am among you as one who serves’. The king *is* the servant. The court with its seats of power is not the ideal they should be striving for. Anyone who takes Christ as their model and seeks to follow him should instead put the needs of others first, be leaders who serve their people rather than lord it over them.
It is no secret that the Queen has for 70 years sought to model herself on Christ’s words in this passage. In a speech at Christmas 2000 she said ‘For me, the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life.’ Her belief that to be a Christian and a leader means above all seeking to serve your people is the bedrock of how she has approached her whole reign. It is the inner meaning of the sense of duty for which she is well known. In a speech on her 21st birthday, years before her own coronation, she said ‘I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service… 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… God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.’
The temptation to fall back into older, uglier ideals of leadership are all around us. The last century has offered us too many examples of the leader as the unchallengeable despot, the strongman, the one from whom unquestioning respect is demanded, who embodies power rather than service. Yet throughout our lifetimes, the Queen’s unshakeable devotion to following the model of Christ has been a quiet yet constant reminder that there is another way. It’s a message we urgently need to hear in a world accelerating towards environmental disaster and marked by significant inequalities between the global rich and poor. The way of the servant king has never seemed more relevant.
And it is a way that the Queen has constantly urged her people to join her in following: to adopt this pattern of love and service to those around us. In a Christmas broadcast in 1978, soon after her Silver Jubilee, she said ‘The context of the lives of the next generation is being set, here and now, not so much by the legacy of science or wealth or political structure that we shall leave behind us, but by the example of our attitudes and behaviour to one another and by trying to show unselfish, loving and creative concern for those less fortunate than ourselves.’
As we give thanks for the seventy years of devoted service the Queen has given to her people, let us challenge ourselves to share in her vow of service, and follow the example of Christ the servant king.