Wednesday, 8 June 2022

'Thou the anointing Spirit art': a sermon for the Jubilee on the Day of Pentecost


‘Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, anointed Solomon king.

And all the people rejoiced.

Alleluia. Amen.’


That text has been used at coronations for centuries and is immortalised in Handel’s setting of it sung just now. Handel’s music even inspired the UEFA Champion’s League anthem, composed by a local Croydon boy, the composer and former pupil at Trinity School, Tony Britten.


But the inspiration we look to this evening is in reflecting on 70 years of the Queen’s Christian service when Elizabeth II was crowned, and anointed with sacred oil, in Westminster Abbey in 1953, following her Accession to the throne 70 years ago this year.


‘Geoffrey the archbishop, and Michael, bishop of Durham, anointed Elizabeth queen. And all the people rejoiced. Alleluia. Amen.’


And we still rejoice and give thanks for her as we look back over seventy years of her reign.


The example of Her Majesty the Queen these last 70 years has been one of exemplary service.


Without doubt she has committed herself body, mind and spirit to the calling to which she was called. And she constantly refers us to her Christian faith as the source of the endurance and hope that we see in the tireless service she had offered, and continues to offer, to this nation and the Commonwealth.


And today there is a happy confluence of the celebration of the Queen’s Jubilee with the Day of Pentecost, Whitsunday, when we celebrate the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the Church.


One of the words associated with the Holy Spirit and with coronation is this word, ‘anointing’. As an ancient hymn to the Holy Spirit puts it:


Thou the anointing Spirit art,

who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.


On a practical level anointing is the act of pouring or smearing oil - we’re thinking olive oil here - onto a person’s body.


In Christian and biblical practice, such as the anointing of King Solomon, this outward anointing is on the head, the hands or the chest.


But the inward anointing is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the anointing of cleansing and preparation, of blessing, empowerment and joy. Anointing, outward and inner, strengthens and equips.


This power of anointing flows from the Holy Spirit in the name of the Anointed One, Jesus Christ. Anointed One in Hebrew is ‘Mesach’ משיח from which we get the English word, ‘Messiah’. Anointed One in Greek is Christos, from which we get the word ‘Christ’.


The one anointed is touched by Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.


On Maundy Thursday, at what is known as the Chrism Mass, the Bishop blesses three oils for use in the church. The Oil of Catechumens; the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Chrism.


Oil of the Catechumens is pure olive oil.  To prepare a candidate for baptism they are anointed with this sacred oil. The sign of the cross is marked on their heads as they are told to fight valiantly against the world, the flesh and the devil. This echoes the wrestlers of ancient times who would anoint the bodies with oil so that the opponent could not get a grip on them and defeat them.  This anointing is to help the baptised to ward off evil, avoid temptation and possess the faith necessary to carry the cross of Christ throughout life.


Oil of the Sick is also pure olive oil. For this anointing the priest lays hands on the person who is unwell, prays and anoints the person by smearing the oil in the form of a cross on the forehead and hands.


Through this sacrament, God gives the sick person grace and strength to bear the illness or infirmity. And it is not unknown that the power of this anointing brings spiritual, emotional and even physical healing.


The third oil, holy chrism oil, is olive oil mixed with balsam. The oil symbolizes strength, and the fragrant balsam represents the “aroma of Christ” (2 Cor 2:15). Anointing with chrism oil signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit. So much so that in the act of blessing this oil the Bishop breathes gently upon it as well as speaking words over it.


The holy chrism oil is used to consecrate someone or something to God’s service.


It is used when people are confirmed as the bishop traces the Sign of the Cross with chrism oil on the forehead of the one being confirmed and, using the person’s Christian name, says, “be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”


It is during the ordination of a priest and the consecration of a bishop. It is the anointing oil used in the consecration of a church and the blessing of an altar.


It is the Oil of Chrism that was used to anoint Her Majesty the Queen at the Coronation.


For the Queen her royal anointing equipped her for royal service. That is a task given only to her. That anointing is the source of her strength and wisdom, for it imparts the gift of the anointing Holy Spirit of God upon her. So sacred is this act that there is no photograph or film of it.


With the Queen, who is a fellow Christian - albeit she is Supreme Governor of our Church – we share in the life of the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ. And that is an expression of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that equip us all to different strengths and talents so we all make up the diversity and strength of the One Body of Christ.


Solomon, who was anointed king by Zadok and Nathan, was given the opportunity by God to name whatever he wanted as king. He asked for the gift of wisdom, that wisdom of which we heard in our first reading from the Book of Proverbs, as Divine Wisdom says :


I have good advice and sound wisdom;

   I have insight, I have strength.

By me kings reign,

   and rulers decree what is just;

by me rulers rule,

   and nobles, all who govern rightly. Proverbs 8.1-16


Wisdom is primarily a gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who helps us see that the knowledge and love of God is the beginning of wisdom. We see in Elizabeth II, our sister in Christ and our Queen, someone who has rooted her life of royal service in the knowledge and love of God, and who in turn has received the grace, strength and wisdom of one anointed by that same Spirit.


At coronation the Queen was anointed with holy Chrism Oil on her head, throat and hands so that she would hold Christ always in mind, breathe in the Holy Spirit of God and serve his people. All this she does as someone, like you and me, sharing the call to be part of the life of the Jesus Christ, so that together with her we will glimpse what our second reading from the Book of Revelation promised:


‘But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in [the Holy City], and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads’. Revelation 22.4


May God bless the Queen, and each one of us, and may the Holy Spirit rest upon her now and in the time to come.

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