Embracing Liturgy  – A Reflection on The Coronation Service of King Charles III

— Midweek Meditations:
thoughts, inspiration and encouragement
from ACF community members —

Last Saturday, we witnessed the coronation of King Charles III, a historic event that stirred up mixed emotions among the British public, and indeed even here in Germany and over the world. Some cheered, some jeered, some didn’t care at all. But regardless of our personal views on the monarchy, we can’t deny that there is something powerful and meaningful about liturgy, ceremony and rites of passage. So let’s explore how these elements can help us mark important moments, express our values and connect with something greater than ourselves, even if we don’t wear a crown or sit on a throne.

So, what are some of the aspects that stood out to me or made me think whilst I was watching the livestream? I will share with you some exemplary excerpts from the liturgy of the coronation service (which can be found here), together with some thoughts.

Young Person (Chapel Royal chorister):
Your Majesty, as children of the Kingdom of God we welcome you in the name of the King of Kings
The King:
In his name, and after his example, I come not to be served but to serve.

These opening words gave a foretaste of the theme of humility that was present throughout the service. They might (and surely were) perceived by some as very hypocritical, given all the pomp and circumstance of the occasion, but I found them deeply touching, particularly when the king at some point of the service was disrobed, kneeling in front of the altar wearing a plain white linen shirt.

I appreciated this emphasis on service, instead of privilege. It is a reminder that positions of leadership come with with their responsibilities, and that ultimately we are reliant on God’s grace and strength to tend well to the tasks and duties we all are entrusted with – be they for ourselves, our loved ones, at work or at church.

Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland:
Sir: to keep you ever mindful of the law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes, receive this Book (the bible),
the most valuable thing that this world affords.
Here is Wisdom;
This is the royal Law;
These are the lively Oracles of God.

During the ceremony the king received many different items as symbols for the his rule at hand, yet the first gift that was presented to him was a bible.

Before I mentioned the display of service, and the reliance on God’s care to fulfil one’s commitments well. Here, at the gifting of the bible, we are being made aware that all service and work is first and foremost directed towards God. He is for whom the king, you and I are living our lives.

The King:
God of compassion and mercy whose Son was sent not to be served but to serve,
give grace that I may find in thy service perfect freedom and in that freedom knowledge of thy truth.
Grant that I may be a blessing to all thy children, of every faith and conviction,
that together we may discover the ways of gentleness and be led into the paths of peace,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Even though the service was a thoroughly Anglican affair, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury there were representatives and leaders from many different denominations and other religious faiths present and actively involved.

This would have given grounds for criticism from all ends of the spectrum: Some might feel that this is compromising to the Church of England and her beliefs, others would denounce the overwhelming Anglicanism of the occasion as discriminatory towards others. I personally welcomed the respect that was shown to people of other faiths (and none). I also like the diversity being displayed in the music, with some pieces being sung in Welsh, Scots and Iris Gaelic and Greek.

Archbishop of Canterbury:
Be your hands anointed with holy oil.
Be your breast anointed with holy oil.
Be your head anointed with holy oil,
as kings, priests, and prophets were anointed.

During the anointing with oil a screen was placed around the king and the Archbishop so that this most sacred part of the service might not be witnessed by a greater audience. King Charles’ mother, Queen Elisabeth, first initiated this secrecy for her own coronation, which was the first one to be televised. She felt uncomfortable would have this precious instant being broadcasted to the whole world.

I found this confidentiality very moving, as even people of authority and public service are, underneath it all, mere human beings with their very own, private and intimate relationship to God. This is the basis of their work, and should be tended by them and respected and supported by others.

Archbishop of Canterbury:
With this sword do justice,
stop the growth of iniquity,
protect the holy Church of God and all people of goodwill,
help and defend widows and orphans,
restore the things that are gone to decay,
maintain the things that are restored, punish and reform what is amiss,
and confirm what is in good order:
that doing these things you may be glorious in all virtue;
and so faithfully serve our Lord Jesus Christ in this life,
that you may reign for ever with him in the life which is to come.

During the service an array of different objects played their role: from the bible right at the start, to swords, the orb, a ring, a glove and, most importantly, the crown.

A lot of people found most of this exceedingly silly, but I personally love it when objects are used in services as tokens of deeper theological ideas. I’m not just talking about the big, obvious ones like the baptismal water or the eucharistic bread and wine, but also about confirmation candles, the recently at the ACF introduced ‘blessing shawl’, and the small wooden hearts we give to students and teachers at the beginning of the academic year. We are physical beings, and tangible symbols help us to hold on to God’s truths.

HRH The Prince of Wales leads the words of fealty:
I, William, Prince of Wales, pledge my loyalty to you and faith and truth I will bear unto you, as your liege man of life and limb.
So help me God.

After the coronation itself, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the king’s son William gave their oaths of allegiance, and the people present were invited, not demanded, to do likewise.

This may strike one as some sort of knightly, medieval role play. But, on the other hand, it is a powerful feeling to be assured of the support and loyalty of the people around as one embarks on a new chapter of one’s life, isn’t it? Of course, these oaths are different than the vows taken by parents, godparents and the congregation during a baptism service, yet they too offer encouragement to the other.

There are other meaningful moments I could pick out from Saturday’s celebration, but I shall leave it at that.

I’m aware that all sorts of other conversations could be had, spurred by the coronation: conversations about colonialism, race, gender equality, religious superiority, and more. I’m very much looking forward to have those in person, instead of in written form.

I would love it if our congregation could be inspired in our life of worship and community by grand occasions like this:
May we celebrate each other’s big moments in life.
May we worship God and bless each other in humility, rooted in scripture and with resect for those who might be different than us.
May we support each other in our very own paths with God, make creative use of physical reminders of God’s grace and be loyal and supportive to one another.

The ACF Midweek Meditations
are written by a diverse group of our church members with the intention to seek God’s fingerprints in our lives. They range from somber to humorous and are inspired by all facets of live and faith. Written by ordinary people from all walks of life, they reflect a wide range of Christian backgrounds and spiritualities.

Each week’s text portrays the individual viewpoint of its author. They might not always resonate with everyone, and are not meant to be understood as representing the Anglican Church Freiburg as a whole. Yet, as a church that is aiming to ‘Build a Community of Grace’ we seek to practice learning from and listening to one another.

We pray that these humble ponderings add a small spark of blessing to your week.

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