Looking around the church this morning, I think it might be fair of me to say that most of us here don’t have much experience of Coronations as you all do look so young! But if any of you are over a certain age, around 75 and over, you might have some memories of our late Queen’s Coronation?!
Queen Elizabeth II, she was crowned 70 years ago on June 2nd 1953 so I wasn’t there!, but I gather from my Father in Law, who is old enough to remember, that as only a few families had televisions it caused people to really come together in homes which was a lovely thing, and that was encouraged by the fact it was a rainy grey day a bit like yesterday, but despite TV’s being only about 6 inches square and B and W and with a picture flickered a lot, it still came across as a colourful occasion with all the processions and pageantry and the coronation service itself.
The 1953 Coronation was the first major televised major public event in the world, and yesterdays was wonderful too, but this time watched on much bigger televisions in amazing colour and in every detail.
The Coronation in Westminster Abbey in 1953 and yesterday’s Coronation of King Charles III, as you may have been reading in various places over the past few weeks is deeply rooted in history, the 39th and 40th coronations respectively since William the Conqueror was crowned in an earlier version of Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day in 1066! And just to say I feel as I have some affinity with this date as my birthday is 10-10-66 and I was nearly called William instead of James!
Coronations, they are by definition rare events, and so it is right that they should be celebrated in churches and as communities as we are doing over this weekend in various ways: in homes and in streets and in bigger community gatherings as will happen later today.
Coronations they are historic landmarks in the life of our nation, and very importantly they are steeped in Christian symbolism which I’ll come onto in just a moment.
The New Testament Book of Hebrews
Over the next number of Sundays, we are going to be looking at the New Testament letter to the Hebrews, a book dedicated to describing who Jesus is and how great Jesus is. Hebrews is going to help us see the big picture and themes of the bible and especially how the New Testament relates to the Old Testament.
In our first Hebrews reading this morning it said that Jesus is greater than even Angels and even greater than the OT prophets pointing us to the fact that Jesus was and is something even greater: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” Hebrews 1v1-4
Who can Jesus be if he is the heir of all things and through whom the universe was made?
Who can he be if he is the radiance of God’s Glory and the exact representation of his being?
Who can he be if he was able to provide purification of sins and then sit with God the Father in heaven?
Jesus, he was of course not just a great religious figure like others in the bible and history. He was not on the level of Kings as we know in our world, and he isn’t even on the level of the greatest kind of being we might imagine outside of our world like Angels…..rather Jesus is God son….’Immanuel’ God with us…Jesus was and is the King of all Kings!
Most people who came across Jesus in the 1st Century would not have thought of Jesus as a King of any kind, but in his death and resurrection people came to realise just how great Jesus was. On the cross, Pontius Pilate ordered that the words “The King of the Jews” be put on a sign above his head meant in mockery, but in time his words were shown to be exactly right…. He was the King of the Jews and of all people……the best kind of King…..not a King about politics, power or prestige or wealth or status…..but a servant King as all Kings should be.
In yesterday’s coronation, the first part of the coronation service began with a child speaking to King Charles that his Kingship, as that of Jesus, should be marked by being a servant King:
The Child said: “Your majesty as children of the Kingdom of God we welcome you in the name of the King of Kings.”
And The King replied: “In his name and after his example, I come not to be served but to serve.”
Jesus, he is the King of Kings as a servant king and in a coronation the key truths about Jesus and Christianity is reflected in the various symbolism. Yesterday King Charles III was crowned and there was a focus on him in many ways, but in everything that was said and done really pointed to the role he has taken on and what we need to know about God and his character.
Last Sunday many of you got one of my Coronation Commemorative T Towels…..we do like these kind of things to remember a special occasion don’t we……and two of my favourite items like this are my Upham mugs: the 2002 Golden Jubilee mug very good for a good cup of tea; and the 2022 Platinum Jubilee mug which is very good for a cup of coffee and I now have the T towel to dry them up!
And on this T Towel we see the main symbols of King Charles coronation, each pointing, like the book of Hebrews does, to how Jesus is greater than all others in our world and anything outside of it:
The Rod that King Charles received is topped with a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, which points to the wisdom King Charles, leaders and all of us desperately need. The Rod is also known as the Rod of Equity and Mercy and our new sovereign is called to rule as Jesus did with compassion and kindness and truth and righteousness, and a good ruler will act in love and care, but they will also confront what is bad and evil.
The Sovereigns Sceptre and the Orb are symbols of power with a cross on the top, and they indicate that Jesus is ruler of not just of one nation, but of the world which he made and all nations in it and one day he will come back to his world and will judge the world.
And then there is the biggest symbol of all, which we all love to see, and is apparently worth around £500 million pounds is The Crown and with which King Charles was crowned. A crown that yes he is the King of our nation, but with the cross on top to say that above our King reigns the even greater King Jesus.
In our culture and society today, many do not know much if anything about Christian faith, but in a coronation and in our Christian institutions, we are pointed to the truth of Jesus the King and everything he was like.
At the end of our Hebrews reading this morning it said this: “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3 how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” Hebrews 2v1-4
In today’s world, not all Kings and rulers are good, but in the life of Jesus the world has experienced what a true leader and King should look like, and so a wise leader and person will not ignore King Jesus, but submit to him and follow him.
As Psalm 2 says: “Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling. 12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. But Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
Christian Freedom and The Bible
Charles our new King, Kings and Queens before him and the ones who will come after him, they are there as symbols themselves as well as the symbols they are given and have the sole role to point to the real King, King Jesus a servant King. And to come to a close, there are I think two more points about King Charles coronation which are vitally important truths for us to understand and protect.
Firstly, there is the centrality of the Bible, presented to the king right at the start of the service as the most important thing amongst all the things he was given: “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.” The total value of all the things that King Charles was given as he sat on the throne – the crown, the orb, the sceptre, the rod, the ring and other items is estimated (if you could sell them) at 1.3 billion pounds. Yet the words of the coronation tell us that the most valuable thing that world affords is a bible which is something that gives life itself which money can’t buy, and is full of truth and wisdom from God.
Many people, and even some Christian leaders appear unsure about the status of Scripture in our day and age. Under the pressure of culture and consumerism some doubt whether what the bible tells us is for our good and flourishing in life. But the settled view of Christians through history and around the world today is that the bible is reliable and it makes clear what is central to faith and life. The Bible can be summarised as this: “The Bible is God’s word written, breathed out by God as it was written by his faithful messengers. It carries God’s own authority, it is its own interpreter, and does not need to be supplemented and nor can it be overturned by human wisdom”.
Secondly, which has been much in the press, we need to understand what King Charles promised and what he didn’t…..what it means to be the “Defender of The Faith” rather than the “Defender of faiths”.
Is this exclusive? No not at all because in promising what he did, King Charles swore “to maintain the true profession of the Gospel, but also to foster an environment in which people of all faiths and beliefs may live and believe freely.” Freedom to preach the Gospel also means freedom of speech for all and so freedom to believe what you decide to, and real Christianity never forces itself on anyone as Jesus never did of himself. King Charles III has promised to be defender of the faith, but also at one and the same time the defender of freedom of worship.
At the end of the coronation service the King arranged to receive a greeting from representatives of other faiths, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Buddhist. This was an important and good addition to the main service in the context of our multi-cultural and nation to say that all are welcome and part of our nation today. Christians see the Christian faith as ‘the way, the truth and the life” as Jesus Himself put it, but we also respect other faiths and none.
In summary, Freedom to believe is only possible because of what was modelled in the life of Jesus and on whose teaching our society was and is still founded.
So, on this Coronation weekend let’s give thanks to God for the symbolism of the service we saw yesterday, the rod, the sceptre, the orb, the crown and our King himself…..pointing our king and through him our nation, to the King of Kings and the central truths of the Christian faith. And let’s keep in our life the most valuable thing that the world can afford….The Bible as the Word of God….which is the lively oracles of God…life giving words of God through which we can come to know God through his son the King of Kings Jesus Christ. Amen
With prayers for a lovely June
Revd James – Rector St Peter’s Bishop’s Waltham and Blessed Mary, Upham
27th May 2023