Acts 7. 55 – 60
John 14. 1 – 14
On the weekend of the Coronation of HM King Charles III
I’m sure we can all agree that what we witnessed yesterday was glorious, and magnificent, and all sorts of other words that won’t do it justice.
But goodness me, wasn’t it weird, as well. I don’t really mean ‘weird’ in its modern sense of ‘odd’ or ‘whacky.’ But ‘weird’ in its archaic sense of having to do with things of destiny, and fate, and mystery.
Because what we saw is unlike anything else the modern world has to offer. The rituals and traditions of the coronation bring into the 21st Century things of our deep history, and our ancient past.
The acts of enthroning and crowning go all the way back to Saxon times, when the king would be carried in on the shields of his nobles, and ritually presented with a helmet.
The book of the Gospels that was carried in procession during the service yesterday dates from the 6th Century – well before even England was united as a single nation.
The processional cross contained fragments from the True Cross, gifted by the Pope in a wonderful gesture of unity. Whether or not you accept this to be part of the actual cross on which Christ was crucified, these particular relics have been venerated by the faithful since the earliest centuries of the Church, taking us right back to the foundation of our faith; and imbued with a spiritual power.
At the heart of the service, of course, is the anointing. This ritual comes from the Old Testament itself, when Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon king – words you’ll hear again this evening if you come to our service of celebration.
But this anointing draws on even older traditions – right back before the Old Testament to the ancient kings of Egypt and Syria, thousands of years BC.
When our King was anointed yesterday, it was a living link between our own time and the Bronze Age; to a time when woolly mammoths still roamed the earth.
But it’s in this anointing that we see the wonder of all this; that it isn’t just traditional old stuff, done for the sake of it. Kings are anointed for something; and this anointing has power.
And this is where our Christian coronation is truly unique. While elements of it stand in the tradition of Egyptian pharaohs, Roman emperors, Saxon warlords, and all the rest: it differs from them all, in that our King is anointed not just to rule, but to serve.
As soon as he arrived, King Charles said: “In God’s name and after his example I come not to be served but to serve.”
He knelt before the altar and prayed that God would give him grace to find perfect freedom in his service. And that, in serving, he might “be a blessing” to all God’s children.
Stripped of his fine clothes, right down to his shirt sleeves, he was solemnly anointed for this service. Only then was he given the great regalia of his office.
It is a powerful statement that true power comes not from political manoeuvring, or force of arms, or even from the will of the people; but from God alone. And that true power is found in sacrifice.
Our anointed King finds his vocation in the service of his people, after the pattern of Jesus Christ, the Anointed One: that’s what ‘Christ’ means, the ‘Anointed One.’ The King whose throne was a cross, whose crown was made of thorns, and whose regalia were wounds and scars.
The One sent to serve the whole of humanity in bearing our sins on the cross, and leading us to eternal life with his Father. As we heard in our Gospel, the One called to be the way, and the truth, and the life.
We heard of another example of the sacrificial life of Christian service in our first reading. St Stephen, called to serve those in need as a deacon in the early church; called to forgive those who persecuted him; and finally, called to give his life in service of his Lord, and to strengthen the faith of the Church.
Now we can’t all be kings and queens and martyrs ourselves. But each of us, just like them, is called to live lives of loving service, in our own time, and in our own way. And in our baptism, we each received that self-same anointing with holy oil, and with the Holy Spirit; equipping us for our holy task.
And we too are strengthened and sustained throughout our lives by the same Eucharist that the King and Queen received yesterday, and which we receive today, and every time we gather together like this in worship.
I consider it the most wonderful blessing that we have this Christian ritual at the heart of our national life. Because we see in this that the Coronation is not just for the King and Queen, but for all of us. It is a moment for each of us to consider afresh our own calling to lives of love and service.
It is an opportunity for us to follow the example of our King, who himself follows only the example of Christ, the Anointed One; the one who came not be served, but to serve.
May we seek to commit ourselves serve God, and serve each other, with joy, now and always.
Let us pray.
Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour: look with favour upon thy servant Charles our King, and bestow upon him such gifts of wisdom and love, that we and all thy people may live in peace and prosperity and in loving service one to another; to thine eternal glory, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit reignest supreme over all things, one God, now and for ever. Amen.