Unless you are a Martian you will have been aware of the Coronation of King Charles III. If you watched any or all of the ceremony, what were your impressions of it?
It was certainly quite a spectacle. The towering ceiling of Westminster Abbey, the wide range of stirring music, the astonishing costumes, the priceless jewels and the elaborate ritual.
The ceremony had deep echoes of our history, that is shaped by Christian faith, language and symbolism. Many were surprised to see how Christianity is so deeply embedded within the fabric of the institution of monarchy.
The event was heavy with the air of history but managed to weave in some innovative contemporary touches that included a moving contribution by a group of Black gospel singers.
I heard some complaints about Justin Welby’s sermon. Some called it depressing; others felt it was a lost opportunity. By this, critics meant that there was a perceived failure to spell out the implications of the gospel.
The sermon was short and not quite as Christocentric and gospel focused as the archbishop had been in his sermon at the late Queen’s funeral. No preacher can say everything in every sermon, especially in such a short message.
There are two reasons why I think that these criticisms are rather unfair.
Firstly, the full freight of the Christian message in the service was not carried by the sermon alone. This is of course true of any service. We might see the sermon as the main event in the service, but it should never be seen as the only event.
The whole service from the opening anthem to the hymns and prayers and the particularly well-chosen Bible readings was woven together with great skill and sensitivity.
The overwhelming message of the service was that there is a different way of viewing the role of king. At the start the congregation was reminded that Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In coming to our world this king declared that he “came not to be served but to serve.” King Charles affirmed his own desire to make his reign echo these words.
The act in the service that highlighted and modelled this desire was the point when the kingly robes were stripped off leaving our King in plain undershirt and trousers being ready to be anointed.
Secondly, the sermon itself flowed out of the resounding message of the whole service: There is a different kind of king.
Like all good preaching the archbishop reframed our understanding of what it means to be king by turning our attention to the kingship of Jesus.
Perhaps the homiletic highpoint in the sermon was in the following lines:
His throne was a Cross.
His crown was made of thorns.
His regalia were the wounds that pierced his body.
In a self-absorbed world of self-love, self-promotion and self-service, this picture of King Jesus does represent a reframing of our understanding of what it means to be king.
It is a revolution of love and an invitation to be transformed by that love and enabled to live differently by God’s grace.
The sermon did not say everything but it had enough, with all its connections to the rest of the service, to point us to Jesus: a very different kind of king.