Frowns, Crowns, and Gowns

What did you make of the coronation? Some people love it, others are indifferent, and more than a handful hate it. Pretty much like everything else in our world.

I must admit that I was somewhat indifferent. Read a biography of Charles and it’s a real mixed bag. With all that background and breeding the man is so flawed! His blood isn’t blue, he has tantrums, made some awful choices, disappointed many, yet has some impressive contributions in a lifetime of service. It’s a real jumble of good, bad, and ugly. When I read about him I was reminded of me, and you, and all the people I have known over the years. As in the previous blog, we’re so much alike – we could be brothers. That someone like him should be crowned king is almost a scandal – or not so quick.

And then there’s the church with all its bluster and ceremony. Something I have struggled with all my life. The ‘us and them’ mentality of priest and laity, the old language, the ritual, the music only experts can do justice to (the implication), and the vast chasm religion seems to have dug between the washed and the unwashed. This whole coronation seemed to be a compilation of everything I want to reject: pomp, hypocrisy, fancy dress, and lots of noise aligning with the rich and famous.

And while all those voices echoed in my head I think I was wrong – while not being too sure of what is right. I imagine the ceremony conducted in the image of anti-establishment me, burning the organ, stripping off the robes and gowns, contemporary language, and singing to guitars and drums. Jeans and t-shirts (smart and trendy of course), leaning on the pulpit talking in plain English, inviting all and sundry to lay hands on the newly anointed king. Mmmmmm – I wonder about that?!

Truth be known, there is something about the coronation that stirred me, moved me, impressed me, and both confused and humbled me. The last coronation was in the year I was born, 1952. My view from the womb, and I was in England, was a challenge.

As usual I have many questions, eloquent and cynical criticisms overlaid with suspicion and skepticism. Perhaps, in some measure that is more of a reflection of me and my dysfunction rather than some rare and acute insight. Against such a jaundiced backdrop there are some jewels in that crowning glory thing they did in the big church.

In a world filled with dictators, leadership corruption, political scheming and dealing, it is quite remarkable to have a ceremony that unashamedly declares God and Jesus to be the center, and to have servanthood as the yardstick for ruling. What struck me was the challenge to represent the majesty and glory of God that transcended every human office, king, or leader. The cathedrals were designed and built attempting to convey such a reality. The meeting of fallen humanity and a magnificent God reunited through the sacrificial love of the suffering servant king, Jesus. My jeans and t-shirt only convey a small part of the big picture. It’s not appropriate for this occasion. Revelation!

In the coronation ceremony the Royal Family and King Charles III were not presented as top of the heap. That throne and honor was declared to belong to the risen Lord Jesus, King of kings, and Lord of lords. King Charles III was not presented as being strong and sufficient, perfect and without sin. He acknowledged his need of help from on High and from the One who modelled servanthood even to the point of death. Jesus’ throne was the Cross, and his crown was one of thorns (the Archbishop reminded us). And that’s when I realized that this ceremony is bigger than any one individual. As a society we need to be anchored and rooted in history, in living tradition, in an awareness of the biggest picture in which we find our purpose and meaning. It is surely good for us to be reminded of a perspective that in the nicest possible way puts us in our place.

And then there are all the symbols underscoring these truths. They are magnificent reminders, particularly today where so many have lost their moorings, their foundations, their values, and their accountability. I’ll cut and paste some explanations:

The Holy Bible presented to the king: “Our gracious king, to keep your Majesty ever mindful of the law and Gospel of God as rule for the whole life and government of Christian princes, we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords.”

The Anointing with Oil hearkening back to biblical days. The British see their king as God’s anointed.

“Be thy hands anointed with holy oil.

“Be thy breast anointed with holy oil.

“Be thy head anointed with holy oil, as kings, priests, and prophets were anointed:

“And as Solomon was anointed king by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet, so be thou anointed, blessed and consecrated Queen over the peoples, whom the Lord thy God hath given thee to rule and govern, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

The Spurs and Sword: The touching of the spurs, an emblem of chivalry, and the girding of the sword, are then both offered on the altar in the church—signifying the king’s intent, under God, to rule in justice, equity and mercy.

The Royal Robe of Gold: “Receive this imperial robe, and the Lord your God endue you with knowledge and wisdom, with majesty and with power from on high: the Lord clothe you with the robe of righteousness and with garments of salvation. Amen.”

The Ring: The ring, which is placed on the fourth finger of the monarch’s right hand, is often referred to as “the wedding ring of England.” The king is symbolically married to the nation. And the ring is a symbol of power and honor.

The Sovereign’s Orb is a symbol of Godly power (used since 1661). A cross above a globe, it represents ‘Christ’s dominion over the world’, as the Monarch is God’s representative on Earth. Presented with these words: “Receive this orb set under the cross, and remember that the whole world is subject to the Power and Empire of Christ our Redeemer.”

The Sovereign’s Scepter with the Cross, represents the temporal power of The King or Queen (used since 1661), and is associated with good governance. Presented with these words: “Receive the rod of Equity and Mercy. Be so merciful that you be not too remiss; so execute justice that you forget not mercy. Punish the wicked, protect and cherish the just, and lead your people in the way wherein they should go.”

Then there’s the Throne dating back to 1272 and the Stone of Destiny even earlier. A reminder of the many who have ruled and reigned before. A reminder that no-one on earth holds life, power, or leadership for all time.

The King has his robes removed when he is anointed. Then robes of office are placed on him as an indication that his position is actually a gift and a responsibility bestowed from God. What man or woman could bear such a weight – alone? There’s much more but we don’t need further detail.

What do I think now? I think it is good to be reminded of these truths, and to gather together every now and again to affirm, acknowledge, celebrate, and pay homage. It is good to wear magnificent robes and in our fallible ways to attempt to capture something of heaven and God that we can never fully do justice. We’re like children in the nursery drawing pictures of the king. Nevertheless, the parents squeal with delight at the scribbles of their beloved children – as I believe does God our Father. We may fall short and be filled with contradictions but at least the attempt is being made.

Where I continue to struggle with the formal church is that it wants to dress up every week. Which seems rather like wearing your wedding dress or tuxedo every week. It’s not necessary and perhaps diminishes the grand occasions. Surely the grandeur is meant to highlight, remind, and draw us together? Brought out more often and it divides. We mortals are too prone to fall in love with the image of our dressed-up-self and then prefer it as a means to hide our blemishes and mortality. That’s when t-shirt and jeans are more authentic and helpful – like Jesus becoming human and leaving his blinding glory behind, downplaying that aspect for our sake; so that we can come close, unafraid.

In todays world (perhaps it’s always been this way) too many leaders are taking office with a grabbing hand, an eye on the cash, and a grip for endless power exploiting others while singing, “I’ll do it my way”. The coronation provides a much-needed counter-balance to loosen the grip, humble the heart, and bow the knee to do it His way, serve not rule. Even with all our fallible stumbling, it would be a good thing.

May God bless King Charles III, and may the Lord help all of us make sense of these strange times and how he is in the midst of us, despite ourselves at times.. May we have eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to receive, and minds to discern.

Here’s a contemporary Coronation song to the King of kings. And if you could do with a reminder of his power and rule providing for all who ask listen to There is Honey in the Rock.

John Cox

Christian Author

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