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Diamond Wedding Anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh

Monday 19th November 2007

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, gave the following sermon in Westminster Abbey at the Celebration to mark the Diamond Wedding Anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh.

Every marriage is an act of faith. When you think about it, the promise to be in the company of the same person for a lifetime is an extraordinary thing to undertake; it is a statement of trust in one another and in the future which can never be free of risk. Another person, however well I think I know him or her, however confident I am about the mutual attraction between us, is still going to be deeply mysterious, beyond my control. Giving away my life to them is quite a step.

That's one reason why marriage has been associated with another kind of faith or trust. A couple undertaking Christian marriage express their trust not only in each other and the future but in God. They declare that they expect there to be something for them to draw upon that is more than just their own strength, their own capacity to love; they open up their relationship to God's love, in the hope that when they face difficulties they will be able to offer one another more than simply their own individual words and feelings. When a couple get married in the sight of God, they become – in the church's language – ministers of the gospel to each other. They are equipped and authorised to tell each other good news from God. And the act of faith that is marriage becomes an act of faith that each partner in the relationship will always be able to share that good news with the other.

And what is that good news? Very simply, it is the news that God considers every moment of your life worthwhile; that God is committed to your human joy and fulfilment and that he will not desert you even when you run away from him. When one person promises another to be faithful for the rest of their life, it is a sort of echo of this divine promise; and when this promise is explicitly anchored in an appeal to God's promise, God's faithfulness in offering new beginnings, it has a special force. It is not only that the promise becomes more powerful for the two persons most directly involved; it becomes a more eloquent sign to the rest of us. Here is a relationship which proclaims something profound and exhilarating about our humanity: a human being is worth spending a lifetime on, a lifetime of loving attention; and also a human being is capable of giving a lifetime's attention. Humanity is shown to be at once immeasurably worthwhile and also free to reflect the gift of God's eternal love in its own relationships. Something is create in the world of everyday relationships that shares the character of what happens when God through Jesus Christ establishes the lasting sign of his love that is the community of the Church.

All this helps explain why marriage isn't a private arrangement. In addition to the interest that is taken by the state in maintaining stable relationships, there is, even in the most carefully secular ceremony in front of a registrar, some element that recognises the seriousness of giving a lifetime's effort to support and build up one other human being; everyone seems to acknowledge that a wedding is a moment when we human beings have to become more than we normally are and to speak as if we were capable of more than we might ordinarily think we can do. Even in the full and painful knowledge that, for all sorts of reasons, our commitments to lifelong fidelity may be undermined or shattered, we still believe that this is the mark we have to set ourselves. And Christian marriage goes that one step further and says that for those who can grasp it this relationship between a man and a woman is now a living sign of God's relation to the world, and of what God thinks about human capacity and dignity. It is a sign telling us that God is to be trusted to be faithful – and that God trusts us to echo that faithfulness.

These things are true of every marriage in the world. But they have an extra dimension in the context of the marriage whose sixty years we celebrate today. Every marriage is a public event, but some couples have to live more than others in the full light of publicity. We are probably more aware than ever these days of the pressures this brings. But it also means that we can give special thanks for the very public character of the witness and the sign offered to us by this marriage, and what it has meant to nation and Commonwealth over the decades. And part of what it has meant has had to do precisely with the sense of unqualified commitment that has been so characteristic of every aspect of this reign: the faithful and creative personal partnership at the centre of everything else has been a sign of creative faithfulness to a task, a vocation, the creative faithfulness that secures the trust, love and prayerful support of millions. Today we celebrate not only a marriage but the relationship between monarch and people of which also that marriage is a symbol: a relationship in which we see what levels of commitment are possible for someone upheld by a clear sense of God's calling and enabling, and the corresponding vision of the worthwhileness of this national and international family that is the Commonwealth, which has been the recipient of such unswerving service.

So before we complain too loudly about a world of disposable relationships and short-term policies, a world of fracturing and insecure international bonds and the decline of trust, we should remember today that we have cause for thanksgiving – thanksgiving that God has made human beings capable, against all the odds, of reflecting his own completely costly and self-giving commitment to his world; that the gift of marriage makes this capacity visible in our world; and that, in the lives of the couple with whom today we join in celebration, that bracing, renewing and hopeful vision of faithful generosity has been for sixty years set so clearly before our eyes.

May it be so for many more years.

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