Like some of you, I imagine, we watched some of the Coronation of King Charles on Saturday, May 6, 2023. As perhaps expected, the weather wasn’t good, rather wet, the thing no one can control. When the Queen died last September we knew this occasion would come, the fortieth time Westminster Abbey has been used for the crowning of the British monarch since 1066.
Much has been made about what this all means to us in 2023, but it strikes me that for those who follow Christ, (and others), it means quite a bit. The first prayer in the service (after the greeting), spoke of the celebration of the life of the nations (of the Commonwealth). It also recognized the life of service, Charles (as Prince of Wales) has given over fifty plus years as he waited to ascend the throne. It spoke of his crowning and anointing, as he was set apart and consecrated for the service of his people. We, at the same time, were called on, to dedicate ourselves in body, mind and spirit, to a renewed faith, a joyful hope and a commitment to serve one another in love.
This prayer gave the tone for the occasion which was a mix of tradition, secular and religious, all set in the context of an Anglican Eucharist. For as King, Charles is not only Head of State, (in Canada and elsewhere), but also Supreme Governor of the Church of England, from which the Anglican Church of Canada came into being.
Someone said it was like a summer wedding, with an array of costumes, from members of the royal family, foreign leaders, to the well-known and ordinary people invited to attend. It was interesting to see so many world leaders on this occasion were not the centre of attention, or sitting in seats of prominence, as they would normally occur at home. The Governor General of Canada and the Prime Minister both attended. There was curiosity about what Prince Harry would wear and where he would sit. But there were faith leaders, community leaders all mixed in with Katie Perry and others from theatre, music and sports.
The music garnered much attention, much of which was well known, such as Zadok the priest, written by Handel for the coronation of King George II in 1727, as well as Parry’s I was Glad. Also newly composed music as well as well-known hymns.
The king was given a bible as deacons (and those to be priested) are given at their ordination. He promised to govern the people of the United Kingdom and other realms and territories, according to their respective laws and customs.
Perhaps most notable was the so-called King’s 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.’
The service was significant because of the many woman who had roles: the Bishop of London who read the gospel, and the sword bearer, the Lord President of the Council, who carried out her task with great poise and dignity. It was also notable that the multi-racial and multi-cultural nature of Britain was reflected in those taking part but also attending the service. The Anglican leaders of Scotland and Wales were present and the blessing included ecumenical leaders as well as the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.
One of the moving moments came as the Prince of Wales kissed his father on the check when he offered his loyalty to the king.
The liturgy itself was a mix of modern and traditional language which reflects the king’s choices and also reaches back to the language of the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549. At the end of the service the King greeted the faith leaders and also the Governors-General including our own.
This occasion was very memorable and reminded us all of our call to serve one another. Like the King, we are set apart for service to one another in love. Whoever we are, whatever our responsibility in life, as we follow Christ, we are to dedicate ourselves to the care of others.
The Archbishop of Canterbury (in his sermon) spoke of being at the Abbey to crown a king to serve. He reminded us that Jesus announced a kingdom where the poor and oppressed are freed from the chains of injustice, the blind see, and the bruised and broken-hearted are healed.
As Jesus was anointed to serve, so was the king. Service, Archbishop Welby said, was love in action, in caring for the most vulnerable, to nurture and encourage the young and conserve the natural world. Priorities, which Welby said, were found in the life of duty lived by the king. He remarked on those gathered for the service who build community. He said that the unity we show, the example we give, is what binds us together and offers societies that are strong, joyful, happy and glorious. The task is bearable by the Spirit of God, to give us strength to give our lives to others. This is promised by Jesus who put aside all privilege.
Archbishop Welby said that Jesus’ throne was a cross, his crown was made of thorns, and his regalia were the wounds that pierced his body.
The Archbishop said we are all called by God to serve, whatever that looks like in our own lives, each of us can choose God’s way today. He said that in the prayer ‘give grace that in [God’s] service I may find perfect freedom’. In this prayer there is promise beyond measure, joy beyond dreams, hope that endures. By this prayer all of us are opened to the transforming love of God.