STRENGTH and STAY
It was on Tuesday that I was asked by e-mail to write an article for publication on Saturday in the form of a tribute to His late Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. What follows is a short, personal contribution and then a commentary developing a couple of sources already in the public domain.
I was born in 1953. By then, Her Majesty the Queen had been on the throne for one year and nine months and the Royal Couple had just celebrated their sixth wedding anniversary. So throughout my lifetime I have only known one Monarch and one Prince Consort. Prime Ministers have come and gone and the political party in power has changed periodically. Some of the Prime Ministers known to Her Majesty are deceased. The same can be said of Archbishops of Canterbury. They have come and retired and died.
Against this background of political and spiritual change the Royal Family has been a constant in my life and in the church’s liturgy. Consider the State Prayers built into the Book of Common Prayer’s Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. The first prayer is for the Queen’s Majesty and includes a petition for, “Our most gracious Sovereign Lady, Queen ELIZABETH.” The second prayer is for the Royal Family and asks for God’s blessing on “Philip Duke of Edinburgh” among others.
So I want to draw together a thesaurus of words in tribute to the departed Duke. These words are: constancy, loyalty, faithfulness, devotion, commitment, fidelity, allegiance, dedication, service and perseverance exhibited through close to 100 years of life and a full 73 years of marriage.
The loss of Prince Philip has made our United Kingdom and Commonwealth poorer, but we have been most richly blessed to have had him among us for so long. Now we have to hold Her Majesty in our prayers as she has to face the loss of her husband both personally and then before the nation in a very public funeral service.
Moving on, I now want to draw your attention to my first-public domain source.
On 20th November 1997 Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness Prince Philip celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary by attending a lunch at Banqueting House in London. Her Majesty made a speech in which she looked back on “a remarkable fifty years”, saying, in part:
“This, too, is an opportunity for Prince Philip and me to offer, in the words of one of the most beautiful prayers in the English language, our ‘humble and hearty thanks’.
[Her Majesty is referring to the General Thanksgiving found on page 43 of the Book of Common Prayer.]
“All too often, I fear, Prince Philip has had to listen to me speaking. Frequently we have discussed my intended speech beforehand and, as you will imagine, his views have been expressed in a forthright manner.
“He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.”
There is in the final paragraph of this quotation an intriguing puzzle. Was Her Majesty aware that there is a hymn tune with the title, “Strength and Stay”? Composed by John Bacchus Dykes (1823 – 1876) it has meter
220.127.116.11. and is set to two hymns in our Ancient and Modern books. Both hymns contain powerful words which apply to the current situation.
Here’s A&M 21, verse 2, in translation from the original Latin written by St Ambrose (c 340 – 397).
Grant to life’s day a calm, unclouded ending,
An eve untouched by shadows of decay,
The brightness of a holy death-bed blending
With dawning glories of the eternal day.
Here’s A&M 346, verse 2, a wedding hymn addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ by Michael Perry (1942 – 1996).
Give them Your strength for caring and for serving,
Give them Your graces – faithfulness and prayer;
Make their resolve to follow You unswerving,
Make their reward Your peace beyond compare.
Finally, I invite you to consider my second, public-domain contribution.
“The Royal Family spoke about the death of Prince Philip on Sunday, as they met members of The Royal Chapel of All Saints in Windsor following the church service. In one conversation, the Countess of Wessex opened up about the late Duke of Edinburgh’s passing, revealing that it was very peaceful.
“Speaking to one member of the congregation, Sophie said, ‘It was so gentle. It was just like somebody took him by the hand and off he went.’ ”
This expressed her personal observation of what we read in Psalm 23. For those who can truly say the LORD is their Shepherd there is no fear in the Valley of the Shadow of Death because He is with us and His Son, Jesus Christ, is the death-conqueror who once described Himself as the Resurrection and the Life.