Reflections on the Coronation of a King
I’m an American…. born and bred….and I’m glad to be one. Our system of government—one of representation by the people—is indeed a grand experiment. And I think it’s still a viable one. I’m grateful for it. Still, I confess that there are times I wish I’d been born a Brit. Those wistful thoughts usually coincide with something going on in Westminster Abbey—a wedding, a funeral, or as just took place, a coronation.
Although King Charles III has officially worn the crown since May 6, I have just gotten around to watching video of the coronation ceremony. My wife and I sat transfixed for more than two hours as we watched the pomp and circumstance of British pageantry play out before us. I honestly can’t think of anything in our American culture that comes close to what we witnessed taking place in London. It prompts me to make a few observations:
1) Let’s start with that word pomp. I recognize that it has a rather unsavory connotation in our ears. It tends to make us think of other words like haughty, conceited, arrogant, or pretentious. We envision someone “putting on airs” and thinking of themselves, as the apostle Paul would say “more highly than they ought to think.” Our contemporary American culture isn’t much in favor. But I wonder what we’ve lost by becoming devoted populists. Is it possible that something deep inside each of us craves the beauty and awesomeness (in the sense of inspiring awe) of the kind of pageantry we see acted out in ceremonies like the recent coronation? Are we starving for a glimpse of order and propriety that is inherent in ceremonies like the crowning of a monarch?
2) This one may raise some eyebrows! I loved seeing the wave that resulted as people lining the aisles in Westminster Abbey bowed as the king passed by. One after another--sometimes a woman with a shallow curtsey, and sometimes a man with subtly bowed head—these subjects acted out their humble position in relation to the monarch passing before them. I confess it was one of the most moving moments for me as I watched the ceremony. Here’s why I think that is: something in our souls knows that we aren’t the last word. As much as we may try to make it so, the universe doesn’t revolve around us and our puny aspirations. So now, here comes something—or someone—who is more important than we are. And by bowed head we acknowledge that fact. In the case of a king, it is another flawed human being, and thus we are not called to worship him. And it would be wrong to do so. But what if this “little obeisance” is a mere shadow of an ultimate worship that each of us is called to? A worship that will some day be performed by every living creature. (Philippians 2: 9-11)
3) For those who know their Old Testaments, it is hard to miss the echoes of king/prophet relationships found there. I was struck by the way that Archbishop Justin Welby seemed to perform two roles during the coronation: at one moment, he was charging King Charles with his solemn duties as a reigning monarch. At another moment, the archbishop was kneeling before the king, pledging his own allegiance. I found myself thinking of the ways in which God’s prophets lived faithfully under the rule of a king, and yet when given words by God, were able to fearlessly charge that same king with his responsibilities before God. Even if imperfect, could this be a picture of what the Church might look like as Christians live as “aliens and strangers,” respecting the government ordained by God, and at the same time, bravely proclaiming “Thus saith the Lord?”
4) Finally, ceremonies can be powerful metaphors for ultimate reality. Try this: next time you attend a wedding, instead of studying the bride’s dress choice, or counting how many attendants there are, envision the bride as the ultimate Bride—the Bride of Christ. Think about Paul’s words to the Ephesians when he describes Christ as the one who will ultimately “present (the Church) a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:27) And then think of the coronation that has just taken place. If seeing the pomp of this earthly ceremony gives you goosebumps, what might the coronation of the King of kings and Lord of lords be like?
And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” (Rev. 4:9-11)