My sister and brother-in-law went on a little break to Bruges in May, making up for lost travelling time during the pandemic. I caught up with them briefly at St Pancras on their way back and they gifted me these goodies from Elisabeth, a chocolatier with outlets across Belgium. According to their website, “Elisabeth’s lady owner travels all over the country to taste and select famous Belgian delicacies as well as long forgotten local culinary traditions” and this carefully curated collection includes these Aprikozenkoejke (apricot cookies) which I now think of as the Elisabeth Biscuits. Small delicate buttery drops with flaking of almonds and a pane of apricot jam in the middle, suspended like stained glass in a window… I’m quietly fascinated by the jam’s viscosity, set in just such a way that it holds its shape.
It was a few days after I’d received the Elisabeth biscuits that I thought to connect them with that other Elizabeth whose seventy year Platinum Jubilee is being celebrated in the UK over four days of holiday this week with numerous street parties, beacon-lightings, pageants, fly-overs, and so on. Although differently imagined in our day, this sort of spectacle is one of the threads that connects modern Britain with its medieval past as the monarchy itself does (also differently imagined). And of course festive food…
More than ever these last few years I have appreciated the Queen’s dignified compassionate influence on public life, especially when those qualities have felt in short supply elsewhere. The steadfast manner in which she’s weathered so many storms and the whole character of her reign is proof that the art of viscosity – of holding firm under pressure – can be incredibly valuable in the right cause. There’s a verse in Psalm 15 where David asks who is worthy to dwell in God’s tent (i.e. in God’s presence) and one of the answers is a person who keeps their oath, even when it hurts – a line I’ve always found strangely moving. Ultimately of course it’s only God who is able to keep all of his promises perfectly, but whenever we find human examples of promises faithfully kept over many years it’s worth celebrating.
It’s hard to think of anyone who has kept a weightier promise as long or as faithfully as the Queen, so I find it apt that her name signifies oath-keeping. ‘God’s promise’ or ‘God is my oath’ are frequent translations of the name Elizabeth in Hebrew, as well as ‘God of the Seven’ which makes more sense when you realise that it’s the biblical number of completeness, abundance, or divine perfection. Seven cycles of seven years is also the number for a biblical jubilee: a year set apart for the returning of mortgaged lands, the freeing of slaves and prisoners, and the cancelling of all debts from the years preceding it. While this Jubilee is more about giving thanks for this particular milestone in the Queen’s long life of dedicated service, both uses of it carry the idea of a window of blessing and favour.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow in tears
will reap with shouts of joy…
And in all these threads we touch into the great themes of redemption and covenant that make up the heart of God towards each and every one of us: of the freedom he works for us if we’ll let him and the promises he makes to us if we’ll have him – of his longing always to redeem, restore and relate. The Elisabeth biscuits for me are another reminder of that faithfulness over the years and the faithfulness it inspires in others. I hope Her Majesty gets the chance to enjoy a well-deserved biscuit or two this Jubilee weekend, and the esteem in which she’s held by so many of us.
I’m glad I got the chance to watch the Thanksgiving Service in St Paul’s yesterday with a friend and more of the Elisabeth biscuits (I’ve taken them on several lovely outings this week and still not come to the end of them). The sermon from the Archbishop of York is worth a listen/reflection.
Baking for the holiday? The official dessert thing looks a bit fiddly so here’s the recipe for Her Majesty’s favourite chocolate biscuit cake instead (excellent choice, Ma’am). And for anyone who missed it, here’s a clip of her party at the palace with Paddington Bear.
I’m old enough to remember the Jubilee 2000 campaign in which many churches in the UK mobilised to help petition the richest countries in the world to cancel the debts of the poorest. The work it started is far from over. Learn more about it here.
A nice royal coat of arms from one of the British Library’s royal manuscripts:
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