6th February 2022

Accession

Accession

A sermon preached by The Very Reverend Nicholas Papadopulos, Dean of Salisbury
Sunday 6 February 2022 Evensong on the 70th Anniversary of The Queen’s Accession
 
(Proverbs 8: 1-17, Revelation 21: 22-22: 4)
Please scroll to the bottom of this page for a video of this sermon
 
“Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold”
 
A cursory search reveals that the word ‘gold’ appears in the Bible more than 400 times.  One of these times is the tenth verse of the eighth chapter of Proverbs, the first reading at Evensong tonight.  In it the figure of Wisdom counsels the hearer to value what she offers above silver – and above gold.  Wherever it appears in Scripture the usage invariably evokes such costly, precious rarity.  The treasured jewellery of the Israelites is turned into an idolatrous golden calf before which they bow down; the elevations and furnishings of Solomon’s Temple, the dwelling-place of God on Earth, are covered in sheets of beaten gold; frankincense and myrrh are presented to the infant Christ by the Magi, but the first of their gifts is a gift of gold. 
 
Gold’s costly, precious rarity gave birth to the medieval pseudo-science of alchemy, whose practitioners believed that the sought-after Philosopher’s Stone would transform metals that were base into the one metal that was believed to be perfect.  Gold.  And this pseudo-science was in turn co-opted as the archetype of a whole school of prayer, in which gold symbolized the divine sanctity which was the goal after which mortal humanity was striving. 
 
Costly, precious, and rare: for centuries a tribute in gold was not only the highest tribute that the Earth could afford; gold represented the complete perfection of both material things – and of the immortal human soul. 
For centuries.  Search the Bible for the word ‘platinum’ and you’ll find that it does not appear at all.
 
There is a very good reason for this.  Platinum’s first recorded appearance in the Mediterranean world was in the mid-sixteenth century.  The Biblical writers would not have known of it.  The alchemists would not have known of it.  The seekers after spiritual perfection would not have known of it.  So far as they were concerned the costliest, rarest and most precious of metals was gold.
 
None of them could have known that gold would one day have a rival; they could not have known that there would one day be another contender for the ascription ‘perfect’; they could not have known that gold would one day mark a mere fifty-year anniversary, while the unheard-of platinum would mark seventy.  They could not have known.
 
Just as Her Majesty the Queen, whose Accession we celebrate today, could not have known that she would become the longest serving monarch in our nation’s history, far outstripping her predecessors King George III and Queen Victoria; and just as she could not have known the extraordinary changes in human life that her reign would encompass – from space exploration to cyberspace exploration.
 
On this anniversary, and throughout this Jubilee Year, we must acknowledge what has been, and we must offer thanks for it: for the Queen’s unswerving dedication to her task; for her ceaseless commitment to the nation’s service; and for her conspicuous and courageous Christian faith.
 
And alongside thankfulness, this anniversary and this Jubilee year are also a time for humility: a time to acknowledge that we cannot know what will be.  It is tempting to think otherwise, and it is tempting to take refuge in our strategy documents, confident that we are prepared for anything.  We are not; just as those who came before us could not know that a monarch might reign for seventy years, and that our celebration of that achievement might bear the title ‘platinum’. 
 
What we can know of what will be is necessarily limited and partial.  In the great vision recorded in the book Revelation the author tries to describe the indescribable.  He does so in imagery that his readers will understand – a city, a river, a tree – ordinary phenomena which bear an extraordinary meaning.  As we reflect on the seismic changes that have characterized the last seventy years, as we give thanks for our Queen, and as we face the next seventy years we might commit ourselves as she has committed herself – to the ordinary: to the task that is given us, whichever task that is; to the service of the common good, whatever opportunity we are given; and to the God made known in Jesus Christ, however we encounter him.  And we might repeat the words beloved of her father King George VI and quoted by him as the country entered the Second Word War:
 
‘I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown”.  And he replied “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.  That shall be to you better than a light, and safer than a known way.”’
 
Amen.