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June: when we celebrate a great Jubilee and a significant Birthday

On Sunday 5th June the Church celebrates two great events: the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen and the Feast of Pentecost (otherwise known as Whit Sunday). Pentecost is celebrated each year as one of the key festivals, like Christmas and Easter. It focuses our attention on the Holy Spirit—the third person of the Trinity (which is: Father, Son and Holy Spirit).  Pentecost occurs fifty days after the celebration of Easter and marks the occasion, fifty days after his resurrection, when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to accompany his disciples in their faith and assist in their ministry. It is an event recorded in the Bible (in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2), where the disciples—fearful about how they would keep the faith and do all the good that Jesus had asked them to do in the face of many trials and challenges—were filled with a surge of love and encouragement which drew them together to form the Church. The Holy Spirit transformed a group of fearful disciples (meaning ‘followers’) into a courageous band of apostles (‘ambassadors’). In a very short space of time, thousands learned of Jesus and were baptized. This is why Pentecost Sunday is celebrated as the birthday of the Church.

What exactly is the Holy Spirit? It is often explained as the ‘breath’ or ‘energy’ of God, but there is no single, adequate word to explain what Christians essentially understand as a mystery. It is an indescribable help and tangible power which is at work in us as a gift from God. We use many signs and symbols to help us to understand the nature of the Holy Spirit, including fire, doves, and holy oil, his is because Christians often pray to the Holy Spirit for grace, energy, power, peace and healing.

The prayer of the first followers of Christ—indeed every follower of Christ—is that God will assist us and give us everything we need to live a good and useful life, even when we fail or feel overwhelmed. This is where the Holy Spirit comes in.

Six months before her Coronation service, the Queen asked all people of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth to: ‘Pray 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’. This is what we do each week at least two of our services, and shall be doing on Sunday 5th June in the Holyford Mission Community when we will celebrate the Jubilee. What has the Holy Spirit got to do with the Jubilee, or the Queen?

Seventy years ago, on 2nd June 1953 the Coronation was televised—all apart from one moment, which was deemed too sacred to be shown on television. It is where, after a prayer to the Holy Spirit is sung (the Veni creator), the Queen was anointed with holy oil—a symbol of the Holy Spirit coming upon her in affirmation and to assist her in her life’s work. As Handel’s majestic anthem, Zadok the Priest echoed around Westminster Abbey, the cameras turned away as a canopy was brought to cover the Queen to enable her some privacy. This is because at this point in the service some of her clothing was removed. All the symbols of her earthly status were shed—the crimson velvet robe she was wearing, her diamond diadem and the coronation necklace—leaving her in a simple white dress. At that point the Archbishop anointed the Queen with oil (poured over her hands, chest and head). This oil was a symbol of God’s grace and the Holy Spirit. It was used at this point as she was set apart to serve and love her people, vowing to do so through all her actions, with all her heart and with all her mind. The meaning of the ceremony is based on an understanding that the Holy Spirit is called to witness and hallow the oath of her office, and empower the Queen herself to fulfill it.

At her coronation, Elizabeth II promised to follow Christ’s example, to be set apart to serve, not simply to be served. After the anointing, St Edward’s Crown of solid gold was placed on her head. This is how the Holy Spirit was called upon to be there at the birth of a new reign. A Royal biographer, William Shawcross, said that the Queen found this intimate and profound moment to be not only the most significant part of the service, but ‘…the most solemn and important moment of her entire life.’

            It is very appropriate, then, that we should celebrating and honouring that oath—the birth of the longest reigns in British history—on Pentecost Sunday.  It is a well-known fact that the Queen is a lady of deep faith.  That moment, when the Holy Spirit was asked through prayer to assist the Queen, has proven to be a source of strength and inspiration to her for over 70 years, through all the ups and downs of her reign.

            The Queen is special, of course, but each one of us is equally important and loved in the sight of God. The Queen, as a committed Christian, knows this, which is why she takes her job so seriously. It is not only the Queen who has been anointed by the Holy Spirit or has access to God’s grace;  all baptized Christians are anointed by the same spirit, to draw on God’s presence and grace to strengthen our faith and service to others. This is what the Queen does, it is what the first disciples and apostles did, and what generations of Christians have been called to do for over 2000 years.

            On Sunday 5th June we shall be celebrating two events in which the Holy Spirit played a key role: the birthday of the Church, and the birth of the longest and most successful reign in British history.

            Each church in the Holyford Mission Community will be holding a special Jubilee service on Sunday 5th June. Join us wherever you can and celebrate with us. There will be services at 8am and 10am at St Andrew’s, Colyton; 10am at St Michael’s, Musbury; 11.15am at St Giles’s, Northleigh and St Lawrence’s, Southleigh; at 3pm at St Winifred’s, Branscombe, and at 3.30pm at St Michael’s, Colyford. All are welcome.

With every good wish and blessing,

Fr Steven.

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