Easter 2 – Coronation reflections part 1 – 16 April 2023

Rev Alison Way – Exodus 14:10-end and 15:20-21, and John 20:19-end

In the name of the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Our Old Testament reading today is the culmination of the exciting and dramatic exodus story, with the Israelite people led by Moses successfully quitting the realm of Pharoah, but with pretty dire consequences for the following Egyptians. This is a story about how living side by side in the days of Joseph moved over time to the Israelites being the slaves of the Egyptians (and despite numerous warnings from Moses about letting God’s people go), how their ruler Pharoah did not listen. One of the many qualities we need in a ruler is the capacity to listen and this along with many other things have turned my mind to all things Coronation in our own country and the other countries of the Commonwealth where King Charles is sovereign.

The things that have made me think about the Coronation include, firstly, stuff in the press all about it, as the contents and plans are being revealed piece by piece. Secondly, the need to get our act together in the family events team, and our plans for our family event called the Coronation Journey on Sunday 30th April between 2 and 4pm. Do encourage any families you know to come to that to find out all about the different parts of the Coronation Service. Thirdly, I collected some fresh oils for use across the 2 parishes at the Chrism Mass in holy week, which reminded me of the important part of anointing with the oil of Chrism plays in the Coronation. Fourthly, because I have been using as part of my daily prayers the resource book we handed out last week as an Easter gift, which has had me thinking about different aspects of the Coronation ahead of us. If you haven’t got one of those yet, do take one today.  

And finally, there was the exciting news announced on Tuesday that our Bishop Michael, will be front and centre in these celebrations. He is to be one of two Bishop Assistants to the King (with one at his left and one at his right) during the significant parts of the ceremonial! Bishop Michael said this about it “I am deeply honoured that as the Bishop of Bath and Wells I will have the privilege of supporting of His Majesty King Charles and Her Majesty the Queen Consort during the service of Coronation. It is a truly historic moment and humbling to realise that this continues a tradition dating back to Richard I in 1189. The church family in Bath and Wells will be praying for their Majesties as we approach the Coronation and marking the event itself with services of celebration, community events and volunteering.” I have to say I would be pretty terrified by this prospect of being centre stage next to the King. So do pray for our bishop too in the weeks ahead.

I know a number of us have some clear recollections of the last Coronation and others something much vaguer due to their young age, where as I was not born! So I have also been brushing up via documentaries and reading up on this topic to work out what happens and why. There is still some secrecy about all of this too as the full Order of Service has not been released yet (as I write this sermon), so we don’t exactly know which of the many traditions will stay and which will be altered and what may not play a part at all. It is a long time since 1953, and our world has significantly changed in that time. Our new monarch is also at a very different stage of his life than that of our late Queen at her coronation, which is also likely to have an impact. We have been promised something ‘scaled back’ in the service itself and that will not take 3 hours to do as it did in 1953.

The ceremonial and practice at a Coronation has very ancient origins. Westminster Abbey has been used since 1066 (for William the conqueror), and King Charles III will be the 40th reigning monarch to be crowned there. The first Coronation service that runs in the way we will see it in May, was drawn up when St Dunstan was Archbishop of Canterbury and was undertaken at Bath Abbey. Westminster Abbey was rebuilt in 1245 to better suit the ceremonial for a Coronation (though my experience of worshipping in it for an anniversary of the King James Bible, would suggest that if you are in the nave you will see nothing (except on the TV screens provided for the purpose!)

The service has six distinct parts. Recognition, Oaths, Anointing, Communion, Investiture, and Enthronement with Homage. I would like us to think about the spiritual significance of each of these in the run up to the big day. We will think about the first 3 today, and the second 3 in 2 weeks time.  We don’t know exactly how this will be presented at the Coronation of King Charles and the Queen Consort, but let’s look at the first three in turn and their spiritual significance.

In the Recognition section, King Charles will be presented to those attending by the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is possible, this will happen 4 times facing the points of the compass round the abbey and standing next to the Coronation chair. Trumpets will sound and the congregation will shout ‘God save the King’. This is recognition that the King is under the authority of God. Trumpets were used frequently in the Bible to call people to gather, especially before a battle. In our journey to that day we must pray for King Charles and his walk of faith – recognising his authority for our nation and the other countries where he is sovereign, but also his reign under the ultimate authority of God.

In the Oath section, King Charles will take the coronation oath with a Holy Bible in his hand. Over the years who presents the Bible has changed and the words of the oath have changed, but it always includes a promise to lead well and a promise to God to do this as well as he can. The Bible details many promises made between God and people. The oath here is very public and is signed in the sight of all. Making promises features in baptisms and marriages, and taking oaths appears as clergy and lay readers are licensed and ordained. It is a very serious thing, not to be taken lightly!

Next is likely to be the Anointing section, which we know we will not see as it is a holy and special moment invoking the Holy Spirit to rest in King Charles richly. We have a practice of anointing at significant moments, as part of our baptism with baptismal oil, it can form part of praying for healing for the sick with oil for healing, and in rites of passage like confirmation and ordination (when oil of Chrism is used). Here are the new supplies that the Bishop blessed at the Chrism Mass in Holy Week. Being anointed can be a very holy experience, and one that brings a deep sense of the presence of God with us, and I am glad this will be away from the glare of the cameras and behind a canopy. We see anointing with oil in the Old Testament of the Bible, when people are set apart by God for a particular task. King Charles has lived nearly all his life knowing his time as sovereign was coming, but it is really important he enacts this role within the care and guidance of the Holy Spirit to bless our nation.

As I said we will pick this up again in 2 weeks time to think about the following sections of the service. I think it is beholden on us to pray at this time for our new King and all the royal family, for this time of great change and difficulty for our nation, and to connect with the Holy Spirit’s guidance and power as we do this. I am going to finish with today’s reflection prayer from the Coronation prayer books which takes up the theme of servanthood (and is a familiar prayer from the Book of Common Prayer). Let us pray.

ALMIGHTY God, whose kingdom is ever-lasting, and power infinite: Have mercy upon the whole Church; and so rule the heart of thy chosen servant CHARLES, our King and Governor, that he (knowing whose minister he is) may above all things seek thy honour and glory: and that we and all his subjects (duly considering whose authority he hath) may faithfully serve, honour, and humbly obey him, in thee, and for thee, according to thy blessed Word and ordinance; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

References

https://www.bathandwells.org.uk/news/bishop-of-bath-and-wells-to-play-historic-role-at-coronation.php
https://www.westminster-abbey.org/about-the-abbey/history/coronations-at-the-abbey/a-history-of-coronations

Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer

The new revised standard version of the Bible © 1989, 1995

The King’s coronation and logo from Church of England website. Resources for Primary and Secondary Schools.

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