Sermon from Sunday 07 May
Coronation: a call to serve
Reading(s): John 14:1-14. This sermon was given by Vanessa Lawrence at St Denys' and St John's.
Yesterday’s coronation of King Charles III in Westminster Abbey
underlined the sacred nature of the monarchy of the United Kingdom.
Packed with religious symbolism, it bound together church and state through the person of the monarch, clearly proclaiming the derivation of all power and authority from God and the Christian basis on which government is exercised and justice administered. At their coronations kings and queens are not simply crowned and enthroned but consecrated, set apart and anointed, dedicated to God and invested with symbolic regalia. Here, if anywhere, we find the divinity which, as Shakespeare observed more than four hundred years ago, hedges the British throne.
The United Kingdom is the only country which still marks the accession of a new monarch with a coronation. The other European monarchies have either never held or else discontinued them. Norway’s kings and queens undergo a ceremony of blessing in Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim, with the royal regalia present in the church but not used in the ceremony.
The British coronation is a religious service rather than a constitutional ceremony. While details have been subtly adapted over the centuries, the basic format has remained the same for over a thousand years. The crowning of the monarch is just one of several distinct elements in the service. Other elements include recognition of the new sovereign by the assembled congregation; administration of oaths, committing the new monarch to govern according to the principles of justice and mercy; anointing with holy oil to symbolise the king’s consecration and setting apart; investiture with the royal regalia which include the orb and sceptre representing Christ’s sovereignty; and celebration of Holy Communion. All these elements are present in the earliest surviving order for the coronation of an English monarch, prepared by St Dunstan as Archbishop of Canterbury for the Anglo-Saxon King Edgar in 973.
I was struck particularly by the moment King Charles knelt to be anointed. Without all his robes, he looked like any other older gentlemen, frail and vulnerable just like we all are. It was a stark contrast to the rest of the ceremony which seemed especially other worldly, and remote from everyday life. In what measure can the life and work of King Charles have any resonance with us here in Ampfield, Chilworth and North Baddesley?
And yet .. we too are set apart and anointed. Through our baptism we are anointed and have the sign of the cross on our foreheads. We too make promises to live lives of faithful service to Christ. We too receive communion, entering into that sacred mystery that is at the heart of our faith, that transforms us and makes us new every single day.
In our gospel reading today we heard Jesus say, ' very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works I do, and in fact, will do greater works than these.' The works that King Charles is called to do, at the age of 74, has the same basic principles as the work every single one of us are called to do. To serve - to care for the most vulnerable, to nurture and encourage the young, to look for the needs of our society and try to meet them in whatever way we can. Service, as the Archbishop noted, is love in action. Loving and caring for the needs of those around us.
We follow the pattern of Christ - Thomas said bravely to Jesus, ‘we don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way?’ Jesus said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ Jesus is the pattern of our calling. When we follow his example of compassion, of indiscriminate and abundant love, then we know we are not far off the kingdom.
For Jesus Christ announced a Kingdom in which the poor and oppressed are freed from the chains of injustice. The bruised and broken-hearted are healed. It is a place in which each one of us can be transformed and can be the transformation of our communities.
As Archbishop Justin said yesterday, “We can say to the King of Kings, to God Himself, ‘give grace that in your service I may find perfect freedom’. In that prayer there is promise beyond measure, joy beyond dreams, hope that endures. By that prayer, for every King, every ruler, and, yes, for every person for all of us, we are opened to the transforming love of God.”