Next Saturday (6th May) King Charles III’s coronation is scheduled to take place and the United Kingdom and the world will see, I’m sure, pageantry at its finest. The coronation is a religious ceremony of the Church of England in which the monarch makes an oath to rule according to laws agreed ‘in Parliament’, to uphold law and justice in mercy, and to ‘maintain’ the Church of England, and at which the people present in Westminster Abbey – representing all the people for whom Charles is King – will publicly recognise him as monarch, and the Church of England blesses the King in his tasks and seeks God’s blessings upon him – in rites and ceremonies that seem akin to ordination and marriage.
There has been considerable discussion as to whether the coronation with its ancient rituals and understandings are appropriate for today with Great Britain quite different socially, religiously, and politically to when the last coronation took place. The coronation has no constitutional value as King Charles III immediately became Monarch following the death of Queen Elizabeth II and has full authority to grant Royal Assent to Acts of Parliament and to preside at meetings of the Privy Council.
As a ritualist, I do believe that rituals whether they be family ones, birthday ones, wedding ones, sporting or military ones, civic ones, and of course religious ones – are powerful moments of identity, authorisation and accountability, social cohesion and well-being. This means that, I think, the coronation has an important role to play publicly for the nation, as a nation, and for everyone concerned – yes, the monarch but also all the citizens – us – who live in this constitutional monarchy. It is important for Christians wherever they live to be aware of the political system under which they live so that they can navigate their discipleship between being “subject to governing authorities” (Romans 13:1) and “obeying God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). There are always mutual responsibilities to be undertaken by those with authority and those under authority – and, I think, a coronation is a good moment to consider such responsibilities and accountabilities as a nation.
Of course, a constitutional monarchy is what we have here. It may change in time. There are many other authority and accountability structures all around the world – and many countries, I dare say, where they are autocratic or reject the rule of law or promote injustice and evil as legal and right, are places we’d prefer not to live. But there are Christians in every country of the world working out how best to follow Jesus. And for those for whom their King is King Charles III, the coronation is a public moment where the monarch essentially undertakes to serve his people – not according to his whim but according to what is legal and just and in mercy – and the people recognise this role and task – and in effect also commit themselves to what is legal and just and in mercy. And I think that’s not a bad thing!
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and Jesus said that his Kingdom is not of this world, nor did he come to establish an earthly Kingdom, and yet his Kingdom comes – as indeed we pray for it to come to us. The kingship of Jesus is marked by a wooden throne and a crown of thorns because he, par excellence, with all authority and power comes among us as one who serves. He is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. He is the exemplar of servant leadership. Jesus is not aligned to political systems or parties but calls his people in their situation(s) in life to follow him and serve others wherever they are (next door or as a nation). And a coronation can bring a nation’s social responsibilities into focus – and perhaps we will remember what God said through the prophet Micah that God has told us what is good (socially) – “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8b).