The Queen: a model of Christian public service

(Photo: BBC)

Amid the gloom and darkness of current events, this week is hoping to bring a bit of joy and celebration to our communities across the UK. People around the world will have their sights on Great Britain this weekend as we celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth.

On many occasions during my time in Parliament, I've had the privilege of seeing our monarch deliver her speech at the annual State Opening of Parliament. There is always plenty of pageantry and ermine on display, as the Queen sets out the legislative proposals of her government for the coming session.

The State Opening of Parliament demonstrates the symbolic and functional role of the monarch in the British constitution. Queen Elizabeth delivered her first speech in 1952, the year that she came to the throne, and in her 70-year reign there have only been three occasions she has not attended.

I have been humbly reminded of her ongoing public demonstration and commitment to serve the people of this country every year. As we approach the Platinum Jubilee, the opportunity to step back and consider the service of our Queen over the past 70 years should be an important part of any celebration.

Of course, there have been controversies and crises surrounding the Royal Family over the years, and many people will question the validity and privileged position of a royal family in the 21st century.

But in my view, the Queen's example shows us what faithful public service looks like, especially as this was not a vocation she chose for herself.

Princess Elizabeth was not born to be Queen, but when her father became King George VI after his older brother abdicated the throne, her path changed, and she committed herself to it wholeheartedly. In 1947, on her 21st birthday, she pledged in a speech broadcast to the Commonwealth, that "my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service".

This year, as she marks 70 years on the throne, she renewed that promise, affirming that "my life will always be devoted in service." Even if you are a staunch republican, it will be hard to deny that she has absolutely kept those promises.

In the last seven decades, the Queen has seen 14 Prime Ministers of different political persuasions come and go, and she has advised them all. She is the patron or president of over 600 charities and organisations; she has been visible in times of tragedy and national crisis, and she has carried out her duties even when facing personal loss, such as the death of the Duke of Edinburgh last year. She has only started to step back as old age has begun to catch up with her.

What is public service? It is an attitude of putting the needs and interests of others before your own, not seeking personal gain from positions of authority and influence, and working for the common good. Using that standard, I wonder what scores out of ten we would give to political leaders today? Hopefully not too many would get zero, but I can't see anyone getting a ten!

In our individualistic culture of 'me first', we should perhaps look to ourselves – what lessons can we learn from the public service of Her Majesty?

Let's look at the one whom the Queen has sought to follow... Jesus was the ultimate servant king. He says in John 6:38, "For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me." He committed himself to the path that led to the Cross, and spent the journey serving, healing and teaching others, often to the point of his own exhaustion, and ultimately to his own death.

The Queen has been very open about her Christian faith and the inspiration and strength it has given her. In her 2020 Christmas broadcast, she said: "The teachings of Christ have served as my inner light", and in her 2021 message, that his teachings "have been the bedrock of my faith".

His ultimate teaching is summarized in Matthew 22:37-40: love God and love others. For those of us who have influence, whether in public life or in whatever position God has placed us, we can do no better than to seek to put this command into practice and to follow Christ's model of service and self-giving. It is a huge challenge, but he offers us his strength and guidance.

The books of 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles are full of accounts of rulers most of whom "did evil in the eyes of the Lord". These were leaders who may have had long and mighty reigns, had significant tangible achievements, had great political skill ... but they were unfaithful to God, and that is the only thing that is recorded about them in the Bible, because ultimately, that is the only thing that really matters.

There were a few good kings of Israel and Judah – for example Jotham, Hezekiah and of course David. Yet their military exploits, the infrastructure they built, the prosperity they provided aren't what singled them out. In the case of Hezekiah, it was that 'he humbled himself before the Lord'. So there you have it, that is what Christian public service looks like.

And on that basis, though I hesitate to say this, I feel sure that our Queen would be one who – had she been written about in the books of Kings – would have been one of those rare monarchs to be blessed with a good epitaph.

As we take to the streets in celebration this weekend, let's remember Christ's example that the Queen demonstrates for us every day: to love one another so much that we give our lives to each other's service.

Tim Farron has been the Member of Parliament for Westmorland and Lonsdale since 2005, and served as the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party from 2015 to 2017. Tim is also the host of Premier's 'A Mucky Business' podcast, which unpacks the murky world of politics and encourages believers around the UK to engage prayerfully. Season 3 starts January 2022, you can listen on your chosen podcast provider.