Recently I read that the 31st May is a significant date in UK history: it was on this day in 1859 that Big Ben first went into operation at the Houses of Parliament. This 13 ton bell was pulled to Westminster by a team of 16 horses, watched by crowds of cheering onlookers. What an exciting moment as the bell begin to ring out over the capital, at that time’ the biggest bell in the world!
The Clock Tower was completed in 1859 and the Great Clock started on 31 May, with the Great Bell’s strikes heard for the first time on 11 July and the quarter bells first chimed on 7 September.
Big Ben’s famous ‘bongs’ have been a part of my life – it used to be an instinctive thing to stop what one was doing every day and listen to the reverberations over the radio when Big Ben struck at 6pm and midnight. There was a solemnity and a reassurance about it that felt good, an “All’s right with the world” sort of feeling. (The bongs were silent for seven weeks in 2007, allowing essential maintenance work on the clock mechanism to take place. From 11 August to 1 October, an electric system kept the clock moving, but Big Ben, the name for the Great Bell, and the quarter bells were quiet.)
Big Ben, but also our faithful and loyal, hard-working Queen, have been there in the background ever since I can really remember. I have dim memories of being taken to the cinema to see the Pathe News film of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding to Prince Philip, and I was seven when the Headmaster came into the classroom to tell us that King George VI had died, and the Head strangely said “God save the Queen”. I can’t think of much else that has been as solid and consistent and unchanging in our so rapidly evolving society. That’s a certain sort of foundational security isn’t it? I wonder what the Big Bens in your life have been that have brought a similar sort of continuity and lasting security?
In the next week or so we’ll probably see other teams of horses and many crowds of cheering onlookers, hear lots of ringing bells and experience all sorts of exciting moments when hopefully we’ll feel proud to be British. But most of all I hope we’ll reflect on how wonderful it is to know the greatness of Father God’s unchanging love, and the wonderful deep down security and steadiness that brings us. And that the reverberations of His amazing love in us will begin to ring out into our communities more and more, bringing faithfulness and trust and hope, and stretching on into the years to come.
“Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.” Hebrews 6:16-18