The Bishop of Selby, the Rt Revd Dr John Thomson, writes...

Owner or Servant?

Last October, like many others, I planted a sapling in our garden as part of the Queen’s Jubilee Green Canopy. This month we celebrate the Jubilee itself with all sorts of activities taking place from 2nd - 5th June.

70 years on the throne is a remarkable achievement. Monarchy and service have a long pedigree in Jewish Christian thinking, and indeed when the Queen sits on the throne in her robing room in Parliament she faces a picture of Christ on the Cross, the ultimate sign of a monarch in service.

Human monarchy though was not welcomed by all in ancient Israel as we see in 1 Samuel 8-10. For some, human monarchy rivalled God’s monarchy, and challenged the idea that the Lord is King. Yet for others in Israel’s history the Monarch was the anointed one, the Messiah, the figure responsible for ensuring that the nation kept faith with God. Furthermore in many ancient societies the Monarch was a sort of corporate person in whom all were present. Monarchs represented all, and in many communities owned society and its members.

In the past in Uganda, where I grew up, the local king of the Baganda, the Kabaka, used to regard his people as an extension of himself and so could do whatever he wanted with them. In the late nineteenth century the Ugandan boy martyrs resisted this view by asserting that their bodies were no longer the property of the king but belonged to Christ. As a consequence the Kabaka ordered them to be dismembered and burnt alive at Namogongo outside Kampala, now a martyrs’ memorial.

The legacy of Christian influence in these islands is that the monarch is now the people’s servant, rather than their owner. When people see or meet the monarch they sense that they are in touch with a human being whose story of faith, commitment and service carries our story as the people of these islands, a story rooted in the unfolding story of Jesus Christ. This is indeed worth celebrating this Jubilee month.

+ John