Sunday, May 7, 2023

Sermon for Coronation of King Charles Third: Service in Transitional Cathedral, Christchurch, NZ

Sermon Coronation Service 7 May 2023: Readings: 1 Kings 3:5-10; Romans 13:1-10

The Coronation of Charles the Third last evening in Westminster Abbey involved ceremonies and words which reach back through time, even to the time when Solomon was anointed King of Israel by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet in the 10th century before Christ.

In our first reading, at the beginning of his reign, Solomon asks God for wisdom:

Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your people?

There is always humility in knowing that we are not sufficient, that we need help to discharge a great responsibility such as governing people.

There is no greater help for a ruler than wisdom: an understanding mind, able to discern good and evil is needed to govern well.

In the service the Archbishop of Canterbury prayed thus for Charles our King,

Bestow upon him such gifts of wisdom and love that we and all thy people may live in peace and prosperity …

Another humility was also present in the service.

Charles arrived at the Abbey and said these words at the commencement of the service,

In His name and after his example I come not to be served but to serve.

There has been comment and criticism that the coronation service was very religious, very Christian and yet, so the line of attack goes, the United Kingdom is no longer a very religious nation.

An English bishop writing in The Times yesterday, Graham Tomlin, makes the important case that the Christian character of the ceremony is about what understanding of power is at stake for the monarch. [  ; see also, (which is behind The Times paywall)]

And, by extension, Tomlin’s case is about the understanding of what power and authority means for King Charles’ governments in the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and other realms for whom he is King. Including Aotearoa New Zealand.

Thus the words of King Charles, about coming to be crowned In Christ’s name and after Christ’s example, in order to serve and not to be served, are a commitment

-          to power understood as service,

-          to leadership which is compassionate and merciful.

This emphasis on servant leadership was the thrust of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon last night.

Whatever we make of the rituals in the service,

-          whether we care for such a service to be as it was, overtly, explicitly Christian,

-          at its heart the Coronation Service we experienced last night,

-          challenges not only King Charles but all of us who care for the way we are governed,

-          to seek the power of love and not the love of power.

Signs of this specific Christian understanding of power in terms of loving, serving leadership were many in the service.

The orb, sceptre and rod, for instance, symbolise earthly rule;

-          but the orb has a cross at its top, a reminder that human authority stands under the authority of the God who is love,

-          and the rod and sceptre were presented with words speaking of justice, equity and mercy.

That is, the monarch’s authority (and, as I noted, by extension the governments of the monarch) is to be exercised with both justice and mercy, with fairness and compassion.

The anointing of the King with consecrated oil and the robing of Charles in a manner resonant with priesthood signifies a setting apart of our monarch for a life of dedicated service, acknowledging that the gift of wisdom comes from the Holy Spirit of God.

Such dedicated service is service dedicated to God and to the well-being of God’s people and not to the advancement of oneself.

Our King already has had a long life of service exemplifying the dedication he formally entered into last night.

To speak in this way is speak for an understanding of government embedded in our second reading tonight:

 “for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.”

It is also to speak for a society in which the driving motivation for what we do is what we also heard in that reading, that God asks that we love our neighbour as we love ourselves.


There are many voices that beg to differ on the matter of whether a divinely ordered and motivated monarchy as the cornerstone of our and other Commonwealth democracies is a good thing.

It is very obvious at this time in our nation’s life that enthusiasm for a constitutional monarchy is waning. Our Prime Minister has recently uttered the “R” word, republicanism.

Terry Eagleton, writing recently in the days running up to the Coronation, acerbically notes against constitutional monarchy:

Real democracies, which is to say republican ones, don’t work like this.

They are the only political form which doesn’t need to invoke a legitimating power external to the people themselves.

Instead, the people legitimate themselves, in their everyday speech, action and law-making.

This lends them an unusual authority, but it breeds uncertainty as well.

It means that political society is founded only in itself, with no pre-written script or divine agenda, and this feels close to a sense of groundlessness.

Democracies have to make things up as they go along, more like experimental theatre than Shakespearian drama.

“The people” sounds like a firm enough foundation, but in reality the people are divided, diverse and keep changing.” [ ]

This is not an entrancing vision for a new way of nationhood;

even less so when we compare his dismay at human frailty with the inspiration the Coronation service itself provided,

that God both initiates human authority and holds it to account for the quality of its Christ-like character in servant leadership.

Charles the Third is now our newly crowned king. If we are not collectively motivated to develop and own a new vision for a head of state, we are obligated to own the king we do have.

It is no easy task to be a servant leader, to live out a commitment to serve and not to be served, to depend on God’s wisdom and not one’s own.

We should pray for Charles and cherish him, as we are doing in this service tonight, for to do so is to pray for ourselves as citizens of the state of which he is head.



Mark Murphy said...

Suggestions for an alternative coronation service, inspired by the life of Jesus:

The gold leaf is stripped from the carriages - by the king and queen consort themselves, cheered on by the crowd! - and handed to the archbishop to be distributed to the poor.

The Royal Treasury works out how much of the King's collective wealth is gains from the slave trade. This is deposited in the requisite bank accounts overnight.

In lieu of Rwanda, all royal hunting lodges are used to accommodate asylum seekers.

International guests arrive carbon neutral in the Zoom lounge ten minutes before the service begins.

The service is held amongst the allotments of Altrincham, Cheshire, and attended by local bookies, cheese merchants, drag queens and call girls.

Mrs Selkirk from no.15 plays the fiddle.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Mark
I cheerfully concede that the gold etc is at odds with the words re service and dedication.

However, even if they were removed from the service, would they be sold to assist the poor, or to pay reparations?

I am confident they would go into the British Museum! (And, surprisingly, keep turning up at future coronations :). )

Tim Chesterton said...

If Jesus truly is the model, then simple living is involved. Also non-violence. Jesus doesn't just serve; he takes the form of a servant. A servant doesn't arrive in a gilded carriage.

I'm OK with constitutional monarchy, it's the church's complicity with opulence and power that bothers me. It's like the yearly abuse of the 'greater love has no one than this...' text to honour those who died trying to kill others (albeit in a good cause - sometimes...), unlike Jesus, who died refusing to do so.

Mark Murphy said...

More meaningful than monarchy, the coronation symbolizes the triumph of parliamentary democracy in the history of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and indeed Anglicanism (and, for me, Quakerism/nonconformist churches too).

Since the Glorious Revolution, the British monarch has been 'in power' essentially at the behest of Parliament. As one historian said to Kim Hill recently, technically Parliament could make John from Birmingham King. Heriditary succession is not written in stone. (I don't know if we often realize this. The romantic ghost of ancient Kings and queens - a complete myth - continues to attract our fascination and at least imaginative fealty).

So we get all these vows made in the coronation by Charles to accept strong limitations on any power he may wield, which amount to an acceptance of the sovereignty of Parliament and its laws including the Bill of Rights and the 'reformed, protestant' religious settlement.

It seems to work quite well for ultimate political power to he invested in a toothless monarch as a symbol that absolute power isn't invested in any one particular institution - neither Parliament nor a Pope nor a President, neither the courts nor the army nor a King. The Christian monarch patterns himself/herself on Jesus....

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave. (Philippians 2)

My point is:

Is the obscene wealth, formality, and exclusiveness of the current British monarchy, as seen throughout the coronation service, necessary and desirable? Could the monarchy be radically updated to better represent this servant leadership while still filling the dangerous void of absolute power?

How do we in Aotearoa understand the sovereignty of Parliament, and the limitations placed on this within British history, **in the context of the limitations placed on it within NZ history, e.g. Waitangi?**

How might we understand the limits of 'iwi power', so to speak, within this larger web of power-limiting checks and balances?

For example, can Meka Whaitiri honour both Maori tikanga and be respectful to Parliament at the same time? Can she follow the call of her whanau and wairua and defect to Te Pati Maori, while at the same time be respectful of parliamentary tikanga (e.g. resigning her *Labour* seat, informing the Prime Minister of her intentions etc.?).

How might we understand Te Tiriti in terms of the critique of absolute human power evinced in the life of Christ?

MsLiz said...

Your questions are really interesting Mark, I hope there's engagement.

I'm not clued up enough. Just glad we have a proportional voting system and not the old FPP. Necessity for negotiation help issues get thrashed out more thoroughly and provide more opportunity for minority views to get an airing. Also thankful for a separate Electoral Commission!

Conversely US politics seem like a nightmare.

Anonymous said...

The Pantocrator is the model of kingship. Whether the referent is the Father or the Son is slippery.

Gold symbolizes glory. Some people do not value glory. They also do not like gold as a symbol of it. Other people like both. It is important that this perennial difference of human moral sentiments not be too important because their organic diversity cannot be eliminated.

In some countries, tanks and missiles are used instead of gold. These countries tend to lack both succession principles and free societies. As civic symbolism goes, one could suppose that use of gold is a bit more sophisticated.

A head of state personifies a nation; by its continuity through centuries, a hereditary monarchy exemplifies the stability of the state. By definition, coronations use rituals and objects from the strange and distant past. "The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there."

Some do not value continuity or stability. They also dislike the intrusion of old practices and things into their present and future. But others have confidence in the present and future just because they are assured of both stability and continuity. Old things that do not change reassure them and support the social solidarity that negotiation in relative freedom requires. Again, It is important that this perennial difference of human moral sentiments not be too important because their organic diversity cannot be eliminated.

A head of government is a servant. Prime ministers should not ride in slow gilded carriages. Nobody watches prime ministers take office. Everyone seems to agree on these points. I do not know whether this makes anyone holier.

It is hard to imagine life a century into the future, which is also a foreign country. The kaleidoscopic novelty of time defeats all attempts to plan or prophesy utopias and dystopias. However, some deep knowledge of millennia past does make shapes approaching through the fog more recognizable. Journalism is indispensable, but without memory tested against archives it is often blind even to the present that is the future's past.

If they are strong enough to sort them out, individually and collectively, the diversity of moral sentiments within and among human beings is helpful to their liberty and goodness. Exam Question: What does the reign of Christ in disciples and churches contribute to this strength?

Anonymous said...

"US politics seem like a nightmare."

The United States are states. There are fifty of them. Each has a distinct political culture and constitution and sets its own laws for elections, etc. If one must generalize, it is best to distinguish two situations that cut across the usual contrast between red inland Republican and blue coastal Democratic states.

States where one party has long held a super-majority in the legislature and the governor's mansion are living, not a nightmare, but a coma. When a party apparently cannot lose, its partisans have less freedom and pressure to solve real world problems. In that gilded cage, group-think seems more clever than it is, and the bidding of divisive and unpopular factions is harder to resist. Dysfunction in California (D), Florida (R), and Texas (R) have become punchlines of news hour tragedy and late night comedy.

On the other hand, states with effective party competition are living the dream. They are meeting problems, addressing them responsibly, and submitting the results to voters. Their governors enjoy strong poll numbers and have collaborated across state and party lines on say covid restrictions. At the moment, most effective state governments are supported by the same very broad coalition of left to center Democrats, conservative independents, and policy-minded Republicans that decisively defeated most MAGA Republican candidates last November. These states are in the world, not paradise, but they are taking care of business in ways responsive to voters.

Federal politics? The Administration is administering the laws of the land. The Congress has been in session about four months. The next Federal election is in 2024. Neither party has begun its nomination process for Federal candidates. The rest is more noise than news.


MsLiz said...

BW, Texas(R) and Florida(R) yes for sure. You omitted Tennessee(R) with a super-majority and expelled two young Black Democrat lawmakers recently for agitating for gun reform. In South Carolina(R) it's only a small bipartisan group of 5 courageous "Sister Senators" who've stymied Republicans (three times!) from introducing a ban on abortion beginning at conception. In the case of SC I've just found from a 06-Jan-23 article, "Federal judges ordered South Carolina lawmakers to draw new congressional maps, ruling Friday that the U.S. House district lines of a seat flipped by Democrats four years ago were intentionally redrawn to split Black neighbourhoods to dilute their voting power." So gerrymandering too. These are just states that are top-of-mind for me right now, if I was better informed no doubt there's be more for my list.

People die or suffer serious injury because of minimal commitment to gun reform and lack of due care for women re reproductive rights. The Republican religious right offer thoughts and prayers.. for good measure they loosen gun laws and attempt to gain even more power through gerrymandering. And disenfranchising voters. Nightmare!

What's California(D) done? I've not heard anything I'd have nightmares about from there, although I've read of conservative christians leaving 'blue' California for Idaho!