By Jonathan Turtle
Like so many people I was deeply saddened by the recent death of the Queen but it didn’t quite hit me until I was in the pulpit on the morning of Sunday, September 11 and I reached the part of my sermon where I figured I had better say something about her.
Preaching on Galatians 5:16-23 I said the following:
This week the Resistance lost a member, at least on earth. Like many of you I was saddened to hear of the death of our Queen. Her steadfast loyalty, service, humility, and above all her quiet and devout faith was an extraordinary example to us all. One writer said that among the ruling classes of the earth the Queen “stood out as reflecting a better, more civilized philosophy of public life” (Carl Trueman).
It wasn’t simply her sense of “duty” or “selflessness” that set the Queen apart from other heads of state, it was her faith in the risen and living Jesus Christ as evident in her very first Christmas broadcast in 1952. Then the newly enthroned queen asked, “Pray for me…that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve him and you, all the days of my life.” And we did pray for her, every week.
To borrow St. Paul’s language, we might say that in a world saturate in the “works of the flesh” by the grace of God the Queen’s life more nearly resembled the “fruit of the Spirit.” That’s what makes her such an example for us all. From the beginning, her life as Queen was marked by a dependence on the grace of God. Would that all our lives were so marked, and more so with each passing day.
The words came but through a veil of tears. I must confess, the love I have felt for the Queen has come as something of a surprise to me. I haven’t always felt this way and that got me thinking, where did this love come from? And the only thing I can think of is prayer.
Sometime in 2016 I developed a deep love and appreciation for the Canadian Book of Common Prayer (1962). Up until then I had only really been familiar with the Canadian Book of Alternative Services (1985). But at some point in 2016, the Canadian Prayer Book became the de facto source of spiritual nourishment for my devotional life. The Order for Holy Communion wherever possible but the Order for Morning and Evening Prayer, certainly.
In 1952 the Queen asked us to pray for her, and if one prayed the daily office according to the BCP, one did in fact pray for the Queen every single day. However, if after 1985 one prayed the daily office according to the BAS one only may have prayed for the Queen, but not necessarily.
For example, in the order for morning prayer according to the BAS the rubric under the title “Intercessions and Thanksgivings” reads: “Intercessions or thanksgiving may be offered for…” (p.53, emphasis mine) and there follows a list including, among other things, “the Queen and all in authority.”
However, in the Order for Morning Prayer according to the BCP one shall pray for the Queen, twice at least. Once as a part of the versicles and responses that followed the Lord’s Prayer (p.11). Then, following The Third Collect, for Grace, the rubric instructs: “Then shall be read one of the Prayers for the Queen…” (p.12). With the shift in language from “shall” to “may” prayers for the Queen suddenly became optional, and not without consequence.
So when I fell in love with the Prayer Book in 2016, all of a sudden I was praying for the Queen every day. And that is precisely the point where I believe that a love for her was sown in my heart. It is difficult not to begin to love those for whom one prays.
Jesus, no doubt, knows this and that is surely why he instructs us not simply to “love your enemies” but to pray for them as well (Matt. 5:44). “Love your enemies” as a naked command is an impossible task even for the most spiritually Herculean among us. Clothed with prayer, however, and suddenly the command becomes not only possible but irresistible. Such is the effect of grace.
There’s a wonderful scene toward the end of the 2017 film Lady Bird where the main character, a high school senior named Christine (played by Saoirse Ronan), sits down with one of the sisters at her Catholic girls school to discuss her college application.
Sister Joan: I read your college essay. You clearly love Sacramento.
Christine: I do?
You write about Sacramento so affectionally and with such care.
Well, I was just describing it.
Well, it comes across as love.
Sure. I guess I pay attention.
Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?
That Christine loves Sacramento was not a possibility that had occurred to her until this scene in the film. In a similar way, what is prayer if not a paying attention to this person or that need? To pray for someone is to bring them before the Lord, to remember them, and this in itself is to will their good which, as readers will know, is precisely how Aquinas speaks of love. To pray is to learn to love and indeed actually to love even if it does not at first register as such with us.
Be careful who you pray for. You will end up loving them.