Liberty and Authority

Liberty and Authority

On Tuesday morning, Her Majesty the Queen went to Westminster Abbey for a service in celebration of the 60th anniversary of her coronation.

Last year we celebrated the Jubilee of her ascension to the throne, but coronations take time to organise – and can’t take place until after a suitable period of mourning has elapsed – so she was not crowned until 2 June 1953.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave an outstanding sermon at Tuesday’s service, paying tribute to the Queen’s exemplary model of servant-leadership.

Speaking of the prayer with which that earlier service began, at the Abbey’s High Altar, the Archbishop said:

Her Majesty knelt at the beginning of a path of demanding devotion and utter self-sacrifice, a path she did not choose, yet to which she was called by God. Today we celebrate sixty years since that moment, sixty years of commitment.

Welby saw in that moment of silent prayer an echo of Jesus on the night before his crucifixion, praying to his Father, “not my will, but thine be done”.

And here, in the grace and providence of God, is the model of liberty and authority which our country enjoys. Liberty is only real when it exists under authority. Liberty under authority  begins, as the Book of Common Prayer puts it, with our duty to God, ‘whose service is perfect freedom’.

What a stunning statement.

“Liberty is only real when it exists under authority.”

What does he mean? How can that be? It’s a deeply counter-cultural thing to say. He explains towards the end of his message that liberty, “in human weakness turns to selfishness”.

How true that is. How often does ‘I can do what I want’ mean a person wants to serve others, curb their desires and act selflessly? Hardly ever. We use our freedom to satisfy our own desires and to bring ourselves pleasure.

The fact that submission to one another and to God brings greater liberty than selfish striving is one of the great mysteries of life, and one of the central – though too rarely-taught – tenets of Christian belief.

As we see in the life of Jesus, with God justice and mercy are perfectly joined, wisdom is unlimited, generosity is unstinting, and love pours out to the whole world in an overwhelming embrace that is offered universally and abundantly.

A nation that crowns its head of state with such a model of liberty under authority expresses commitment to the same glorious values for itself.

In those moments of prayer are symbolised the basis for the greatness of this country. In their silence lies God’s call. In their humility lies God’s authority. In their resulting service lies God’s perfect freedom. What follows is the joy of security that comes from obeying God alone. Such consecration to God is followed by a crown. When we obey God’s call, whoever we are, leading Government or quietly serving our local community, we establish a country that is open-handed and open-hearted, serving others with joy.

He closed by quoting one of my favourite Bible passages, Philippians 2:

The very nature of being British [and perhaps being human?]…is founded on liberty under authority. It imitates the example of Jesus who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself and took the form of a slave. In Jesus is seen the greatest servant of all, whose service gives us freedom, whose love is generously offered to each of us.

Her Majesty The Queen is servant of the King of kings, and so she serves us, as we serve her, in liberty and under authority. It is a system that points to freedom in God, in whose love alone we are fully human, fully free.

Well said, Archbishop, well said.

Picture Credit: BBC

1 Comment On This Topic

  1. […] you liked the ABC’s sermon on servant leadership that I posted about earlier this week, you’ll love this video (also viewable here: Individualitis and The Dung […]


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