As a child it didn’t seem fair. Why should the Queen have two birthdays? I like to think that on the day she was born she celebrates with her family and on her official birthday she celebrates with her people.

So we at St. Mary’s together with so many others are celebrating the Queen’s 90th Birthday. Yesterday we feasted and sang just as you should at any party and at 12 noon today the sound of bells shall be heard from the tower.

It is for her majesty another milestone marked amongst so many others, she is a remarkable woman and amongst us will be our own memories of her, those glimpses from a distance to close encounters.

Over the years she will have met so many people both here and overseas. Seen a good number of prime ministers and Archbishops come and go. In times of change she has been that constant figure in our lives.

There are many stories of her. Stories of how lives have been touched by a simple gesture or kindness.   In a moment I shall I read one taken from the book ‘The Servant Queen, A tribute for Her Majesty’s 90th Birthday’ published by the Bible Society.

It’s a story which draws together something of why we celebrate our Queen and also the Gospel passage for today and was told by the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

‘Punctuality, said Louis 18th of France, is the politeness of kings. Royalty arrives on time and leaves on time. So it is with Her Majesty the Queen, with one memorable exception.

The day was 27th January 2005, the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and the place, St. James’ Palace. The Queen was meeting a group of Holocaust survivors.

When the time came for her to leave, she stayed. And stayed. One of her attendants said he had never known her to linger so long after her scheduled departure time.

She gave each survivor – it was a large group – her focussed, unhurried attention. She stood with each until they had finished telling their personal story. It was an act of kindness that almost had me in tears… It brought a kind of blessed closure into deeply lacerated lives.’[1]The Servant Queen and the King she serves – The Bible Society, Hope, LiCC, 2016, P.46

The book doesn’t recall the words of those with whom the Queen spent time that day but we can be pretty sure that it was an event that will have stayed with them forever.

She stayed and listened and though she may have had a neatly planned timetable, other people to see and things to do on that day she stayed. For those survivors of the Holocaust her presence was a reminder that their story mattered, that their experience was not forgotten or unimportant.

Here then is the connection with that Gospel. A woman (who was a sinner) greets Jesus. Her tears bathe his feet. She kisses and anoints them.

Jesus could’ve turned away and made it clear that this really wasn’t on, who does she think she is. But instead he lets her ‘draw near with faith’ and in doing that he sees her as a person who matters, who is important. As someone who has a future.

The Queen will have met so many people in her life. Through those years there must have been times when she’d rather be doing something else and yet faithfully she has served her people, for we matter to her, we are important, we have a future together.

In a sense the Queen has been Christ-like by her presence through the years. Encouraging and using what influence she has for the common good, often through those brief one to one encounters which endears her to so many more.

We don’t know what happened to the woman who washed and kissed Jesus’ feet. I hope she became one of those who accompanied Jesus telling others of her story of how everything had changed that day she met Jesus.

Perhaps for us this morning we are left to ponder as we give thanks for the Queen that sense that even the briefest encounter can bring great change, it did for the woman at Jesus’ feet and it can for us too.

May we be open to that encounter, in each other and in ourselves now and always. Amen.

References   [ + ]

1. The Servant Queen and the King she serves – The Bible Society, Hope, LiCC, 2016, P.46