Interestingly, this weekend, we heard the following words proclaimed from the first letter of St Peter (1 Peter 2:4-9), in the Second Reading:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
These words reflect the coronation ceremony of King Charles III. I found the religious service in Westminster Abbey to be both moving and interesting. Over the weeks since Easter, we have been listening to readings from the Acts of the Apostles, from the first letter of St Peter and from St John’s Gospel. These chosen readings have been teaching us about the life of the Jesus movement (the early Church) after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension into heaven; then the writings to the early Church about how to be a follower of Jesus Christ; and then John’s theological writings about what it means to have faith in the teachings of Jesus.
American author, Edith Hamilton once said ‘Belief is passive. Faith is active.’
Over the weeks since Easter, we have been shown that being a follower of Jesus Christ calls us to an active life of service, compassion, wisdom, justice, mercy, truth, peace, and leadership.
This is what was reflected throughout the coronation service. King Charles is being called to a life of love in action. His duty is to live life for the sake of others, for the whole of society. King Charles prayed aloud the following prayer:
God of compassion and mercy, whose Son was sent not to be served but to serve, give grace that I may find in thy service perfect freedom and in that freedom knowledge of thy truth. Grant that I may be a blessing to all thy children, of every faith and belief, that together we may discover the ways of gentleness and be led into the paths of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
People of many faiths were actively engaged in the coronation service, while Charles was anointed as both spiritual leader of the Church of England, Head of State, Head of the Commonwealth, and commander-in-chief of the British armed forces. Although he does not have executive or political power, the role of King exists to serve the community.
In the homily, Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, made reference to Charles and Jesus. He said, Jesus’ throne was a cross, his crown was that of thorns and his robes were the wounds he bore. He invited King Charles to be open to the transforming love of God. It seems that to be a Christian leader is demanding, and if we are to be like Jesus, painful and self-giving.
The reading from Colossians 1: 9-20, read by the Prime Minister of England, Rishi Sunak, spoke of the graces bestowed on those in leadership:
For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
As Handel’s Zadok the Priest filled Westminster Abbey, Charles was anointed behind a screen. For this anointing, he removed his robe of state as if presenting himself to God as a man of humility who would rely upon God for what may come. Emerging from the anointing, from the sacred of sacred moments he was now prepared for his investiture and crowning. Each of the items presented to him came with the following virtues of being a leader – wisdom, grace, justice, compassion, mercy, peace, defend good, equity, ….
The following words, spoken by the archbishop when he presented the sword to the King, are reflective of what his leadership will entail:
With this sword do justice, stop the growth of iniquity, protect the holy Church of God and all people of goodwill, help and defend widows and orphans, restore the things that are gone to decay, maintain the things that are restored, punish and reform what is amiss, and confirm what is in good order: that doing these things you may be glorious in all virtue; and so faithfully serve our Lord Jesus Christ in this life, that you may reign for ever with him in the life which is to come. Amen.
Several Christian leaders then surrounded the King and blessed him with the following words:
- The Lord Archbishop of York and Primate of England:
The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and give you his peace.
- The Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain:
The Lord protect you in all your ways and prosper all your work in his name.
- The Moderator of the Free Churches Group:
The Lord give you hope and happiness, that you may inspire all your people in the imitation of his unchanging love.
- The General Secretary of Churches Together in England:
The Lord grant that wisdom and knowledge be the stability of your times, and the fear of the Lord your treasure.
- The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster:
May God pour upon you the richness of his grace, bless you and keep you in his holy fear, prepare you for a happy eternity, and receive you at the last into immortal glory.
- The Archbishop of Canterbury:
And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be with you and remain with you always. Amen.
The choir sang:
Lord, grant the king a long life,
that his years may endure throughout all generations.
Let him dwell before thee for ever.
O prepare thy loving mercy and faithfulness that they may preserve him.
So shall we always sing and praise thy name.
King Charles is being asked to make his faith active, and proclaim it to the world by being anointed and sent. This is also our commission, to go out into the world and proclaim the good news to the whole of creation. We must proclaim it by the words we speak and the lives we live. Belief is passive but our faith is active.
May we, like King Charles, live up to the anointing given to us at our baptism and confirmation. May we be a light to those who encounter us.
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