Sunday, June 3, 2012

Diamond Jubilee Celebrations

It goes back many centuries before the time of Christ.  The idea of a Jubilee Year.

It would be a year that gave people the chance to start all over again as debts were written off and slaves freed.

It was a year to catch the imagination … but it never quite worked!

It appears at the beginnings of the Bible in Leviticus 25.  It then appears again in Isaiah 61.  And as Jesus begins his ministry the idea appears again.

Reading:  Luke 4

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour

Good news to the poor
Freedom for the prisoners
Recovery of sight for the blind,
Set the oppressed free
The Year of the Lord’s Favour – that’s it – the Jubilee Year.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that’s what the Jubilee was all about!

It really is a special year – as much as anything it is a celebration of the achievements of the Queen as an individual.  Not many people can claim to have been doing a job for 60 years … and still to be going strong with the kind of gruelling schedule the Queen has chosen to undertake in this Jubilee Year.

She has made the Christmas Day message her very own – some have been about current affairs, current issues, some about her family, initially idolised, latterly going through the very same strains and stresses any other family experiences.  On the threshold of this Jubilee year it was fascinating to hear a Christmas Day message that was such a clear declaration of the Christian faith that has meant so much to her and continues to mean so much!

She quoted a favourite Christmas carol and made it her prayer for each of us listening in …

In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, there’s a prayer.

O Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray.
Cast out our sin,
And enter in.
Be born in us today.

The Queen went on to say,

It is my prayer that on this Christmas Day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.

What would that mean for us?  I wonder?

A chance to begin all over again?

I think there’s a clue in two visits the Queen has made to Cheltenham.  And I am choosing those visits carefully.

In 2003 she came to the races and unveiled a bust to the Queen Mother.  It emerged then that months before the coronation the Queen mother had brought the uncrowned Queen Elizabeth secretly to Cheltenham – they watched the races from a landrover parked next to the Water Jump.

That wasn’t her first visit to Cheltenham.  Fifty-two years before she had come as Princess Elizabeth.   It was as GCHQ was about to move to the town, its buildings were going up.  Hence Princess Elizabeth Way with all its flats and houses that were built for the arrival of those moving from Bletchley Park and London.  During her visit Princess Elizabeth planted an Oak Tree.

Sad to say when the new GCHQ building went up the Oak Tree had to  be felled.  No matter, when the Queen came to Cheltenham for, I think, the fourth time, in March 2004 to open the new GCHQ building she unveiled a plaque in Hester’s Way Park to commemorate the Oak she had planted … what became of the oak.  Other oaks planted – Felicity thought in Cox’s Meadow, maybe in Hester’s Way.

There’s a wonderfully powerful image there of the acorn and the oak.  Small things that make all the difference.  That could be said of much the Queen has done … the small things that count and are remembered.

It’s in doing small things that make a difference that we bring good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and set the oppressed free.

It is a lovely picture of the tree that has to be felled – but from it an acorn brings new life.  It is an irony of our celebrations that we are marking not the sixtieth anniversary of the coronation, but the sixtieth anniversary of the accession.  And that has a sadness as well as a joy to it.  For it is out of sadness that a new reign begins.

Jesus doesn’t talk of oaks and acorns … but he does talk of a grain of wheat.  Speaking of his own death and resurrection, and of the resurrection victory we all may share he invited us to picture a grain of wheat.

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains but a single seed.  But if it dies it produces many seeds.

Even in the sadness of dying, death and bereavement there’s a new beginning in the eternal love of God.

The story of that original Oak planted by Princess Elizabeth is also symbolic of the way new beginnings come from endings too!

When Philip Smith, the vicar of St Aidan and St Silas realised the Oak originally planted by Princess Elizabeth had been felled he rescued some of the wood.

St Silas and St  Aidan has been home to a wonderful project that has been on the go for twenty years and more, Network Crafts.  Providing word working experience initially for people who need to develop skills, maybe in unemployment or in retirement.  They have crafted candle holders and a table that takes pride of place in the church.

That’s the hope at the heart of the faith that has meant so much to the Queen down through all these years.

Between that visit to Cheltenham and GCHQ in 2004 and the next in 2009 the construction company responsible for what had been Europe’s largest building project at the time had presented to the town a wonderfully playful piece of public art in Hester’s Way Park.

Cheltenham’s very own stone circle.

There’s GCHQ, affectionately known as the Doughnut.

And from it goes an avenue of stones to a much smaller circle of stones.

What would a time team special in a thousand years make of these two circles side by side?

Created by …, and known as the Listening Stones, it really is a stone circle worth visiting.

It’s got all sorts of codes I don’t recognise … but maybe some here would.  And newspaper cuttings.  I am told there are Bible texts … but you will have to find those for yourselves.

But one stone is highlighted.  The Inscription is marked out in red.

It is a stone that brings me back to the Year of the Lord’s favour, making a new start and in particular to that Christmas Message of 2011 with its Prayer for Peace

Lead me from death to life
From falsehood to truth
Lead me from despair to hope
From fear to trust
Lead me from hate to love
From war to peace
Let peace fill our heart,
Our world, our universe
Peace Peace Peace

That prayer at Christmas 2011 is one very much for the whole of this Jubilee Year.

It is my prayer that on this Christmas Day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.

The message of the angels that is right at the heart of that prayer is the prayer we would pray together

Glory to God on high
And earth …. Peace

It brings to mind the words of Jesus … I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in  darkness but will have the light of life.

For the Diamond Jubilee Philip has written a hymn.

This morning over on Coronation Square they will be singing of the Jubilee on Coronation Square.

We come to crown God sovereign
in Coronation Square
A time for celebration
in jubilee displayed.
We come as different people
each noble in God’s heart.
We come to serve our neighbour,
for all to play their part.

Our gracious Queen we pray for
and thank God for her care.
She rules with love and service,
her people everywhere.
A commonwealth of nations,
a family of grace.
We come as loyal kinsfolk
all equal in this place.

This day of national homage
is one of hope and cheers.
A time to honour duty,
for grace of sixty years.
We are a royal priesthood
who in our Lord we trust.
O God we raise our anthem,
please save our Queen and us!

Philip Smith 2012

We may not be other there with them, but we can be with them in spirit and use those same words too.

In that coronation service at the heart of the service was a moment when the Queen was anointed with oil.

That too is an ancient biblical tradition.  In the Old Testament anointing was always for a specific person and a specific role – prophets, priests, kings.

Jesus’ brother James speaks of the great value of anointing with oil in times of illness when he that when someone is ill he can call those who are senior in the life of the church and ask them to share in anointing with oil and to share in prayer for healing and hope.  Something very moving to share.

Jesus himself felt anointed by the Spirit to bring good news to the poor, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed.

The wonderful good news is that this anointing of the Spirit is not just for the one or the two, not just for those in extraordinary positions, it is something for each one of us.  We too are anointed by the Spirit to bring good news to the poor and share that wonderful message of the love of God in Christ.

For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the  power of the Holy Spirit.

We all of us are called to live for other people …
That’s the life we are anointed to, that’s the hope we look and it is a wonderful hope to share.

May the God of hope fill each one of us with all joy and peace as we trust in him, so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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