Video for May 4th, 2023
Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
I’m here in the Sanctuary at Westminster Abbey, just before the rehearsals start for the Coronation on Saturday. As you may know, I have the privilege of being one of the Bishop Companions to The Queen Consort in the service. The chairs are just over there, but I’m not allowed to show you that. This has been a somewhat surreal experience. I’m just praying I don’t trip over the train. I am comforted by the fact that only a billion or so people will be watching!
The order of service is a rich compilation of Anglican liturgy, which whilst familiar to those of us who go to church regularly, may be the first time many of our fellow citizens will have encountered it. It is a deeply Christian ceremony reflecting the established nature of the Church of England as an intrinsic part of the British constitution. Establishment does carry with it many privileges, but its primary purpose is service. An established church acts as a safeguard and guarantee of the central place of faith in society and a reminder that nearly everything our culture values has Christian roots. But it is not exclusive, which is reflected in the participation in the service of those from other Christian denominations and indeed those of other faiths. We are a much more diverse society than at the last coronation in 1953. Not only other faiths, but secular humanism are much more to the fore than they were then.
This is a service with all the pomp you would expect, which we seem to do so well in this country. But the model of leadership it encourages is that of Jesus. The king will pray ‘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 conviction, that together we may discover the ways of gentleness and be led into the paths of peace. through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’
The content of that service is to be found in the scriptures, which the King will symbolically receive with the charge, “Sir: to keep you ever mindful of the law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes, receive this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively Oracles of God.” But the theme of service uniting all faiths is brought out by the word spoken to the King by other faith representatives, “Your Majesty, as neighbours in faith, we acknowledge the values of selfless service. We unite with people of all faiths and beliefs in thanksgiving that the service of all unites us.”
The service will also recognise that leadership carries with it power, symbolised by the receipt of a sword. This is accompanied by a charge recognising what that power is for, “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.”
The King and Queen will also be anointed with oil to recognise that this heavy calling can only be achieved with the help of the Holy Spirit. In that they are no different from any other Christian.
I know some will argue that the packaging of all this appears out of touch with the reality of people’s lives. But there is always something about Christian worship that calls us above and beyond the reality of day to day experience. When we worship Sunday by Sunday, we attempt to curate a space where people can encounter the creator of heaven and earth. The essence of the Coronation service will be countercultural and prophetic in a very good way. Notions of leadership as service, our need to be reliant on God rather than ourselves and the necessity of God’s word to frame, direct and guide us are not norms in our culture. I pray that this service will challenge us all to consider these things afresh.