“I promise to do my best, to do my duty to God and the Queen, to keep the law of the wolf cub pack and to do a good turn every day.” This was the oath we seven-year-old boys solemnly swore each week at cub pack meetings. Perhaps this, along with the devotion instilled in me by my English Nan, is what led me to be a deep admirer of our late sovereign.
Much been said in recent days of Elizabeth II’s own oath, given on her 21st birthday, to serve her people all her days whether her life be long or short. Her sense of duty will long shine as a beacon of faithfulness both as our Queen and as a Christian. Duty is not something we speak that fondly of these days. In a world obsessed with liberty, and indeed a certain libertinism, with self-actualization and sovereignty of the individual held up as the supreme virtues, we may have forgotten the virtue of duty. But is duty a virtue? Not in and of itself, but it is reflective of and an expression of virtue. And what was the virtue that our late Queen upheld in her commitment to duty? It was that of obedience.
Like duty, obedience is not often looked upon that favourably in today’s world. Did we not remove “obey” from the marriage liturgy, after all? Yet, it is to be found in the baptismal liturgy as a virtuous response to the call of God in all our lives. Our modern baptismal liturgy invites us to turn to Christ, trust in his grace and love, and to obey him as Lord. In my experience preparing individuals for baptism, they don’t seem to have much trouble with the “turning” and “trusting” parts, but people’s backs seem to get up when we speak about obedience.
We can speculate much about the late Queen’s faith, but in truth, we will never know what she talked to God about in her quiet moments. Beyond her brief statements of faith in her Christmas messages, we have only her life before us as a witness to her faith, and it was a life of duty and obedience. Some recent biographers have revealed that had she never been Queen, she would have relished the life of a country lady, raising horses and dogs. To be sure, she was able to indulge these passions during her life, but first and foremost was her service to the people God called her to serve. She never asked to be Queen – God called her to it in the providence of her birth. She answered the call unswervingly, obediently and dutifully. How many of us can say we have been as faithful to God’s call as Her Late Majesty was?
This brings us back to the oaths and vows that we make to each other, to those whom we serve and to the one we serve, our Lord and Master. Each of us has been providentially placed in our own setting with a call of God on our lives. Many of us will have more choice than the late Queen as to how we will live our lives, where we will live, with whom shall we live and what we will do with our choices. Yet there is much we cannot change about where we find ourselves. Do we fight against what we cannot change? Or shall we lay hold of the hope of the gospel open to all, no matter where we find ourselves? Shall we ask, where we are, whatever our circumstances, “what does the Lord ask of me?” and “how shall I serve?”
Looking to the example of Elizabeth II, perhaps we might re-examine the concept of duty and the virtue of obedience. This is not to dismiss the promise of liberty and personal sovereignty, for the gospel offers both of these in abundance. Yet, let us always remember that in following Christ, in dutifully serving him, in obeying him, we discover a service of perfect freedom. The last photo taken of the late Queen, meeting the last prime minister of her reign, days before her death, shows a frail person, but one still radiating. Surely the oath of faithfulness to serve in the way God had called her was as much on her mind that day as it was that day on her 21st birthday.