Westminster Abbey is England’s storyteller, and indeed, perhaps that of 1000 years of Western Civilisation. The stone floors and walls, her columns and stained glass windows are filled with the memory of the world’s timeline since that of Edward the Confessor. Every corner of the naive from floor to wall, is covered in the markers, statues and tombs of Britain’s greatest. There are Kings and Queens, soldiers and poets, scientists and Prime Ministers honoured and remembered.
The Abbey is an extraordinary place to visit, especially when the crowds are absent. I recall one evening I was there to attend a concert. Afterwards, people left hurriedly while I gave myself a few moments to look up and gaze upon this giant memorial to the past. I found myself able to then walk down the Abbey without people brushing passed and interrupting the silence with nagging little chatter. There is something weird and wonderful about walking on stone and marble where Edwards and Elizabeths, Richards and Henrys once trode.
The coronation of a British monarch isn’t an everyday event. It has been 70 years since the last British monarch received the sceptre and crown at Westminster Abbey. The coronation of a King may no longer carry the political and cultural weight of centuries past, but the event remains to impress, inspire and unify.
There is a tinge of sadness tied to today’s coronation, for the new King reminds us of the death of the great woman, Queen Elizabeth II. Her death may well turn out to mark the end of an era; not only the divorce with the 20th Century and the end of the Empire (with all the ills and goods associated), but also the age of Western Christianity.
There is something awe-inspiring about pomp and circumstance. No doubt, there are republicans and complainers across Australia, and even inside the United Kingdom criticising the pageantry and tradition that will fill the coronation service of King Charles III.
While changes have been made to reflect multi-faith realities of 21st-century Britain, the service remains deeply Christian. For example, the coronation service takes place in a Christian Abbey, the very same place where English Kings and Queens have been crowned for nearly 1000 years. The Scripture readings and the prayers and the oaths are Christian in words and meaning. While there are some theological question marks over connections made between an English monarch and that of Kings David and Solomon, there is a right link established between God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the rule of the new monarch. The King serves under God and serves the people under his watch.
There is something weirdly wonderful about this ceremony: from the music and liturgy to the symbols of State and the oaths, and the seriousness and awe that will envelop each moment. This service pushes our hearts and spirit beyond the ceiling and sky and makes us ponder heavenly realities.
In a rush to eradicate the centuries of police and traditions, we can lose something that is important for the present and our future selves. The paucity of the materialist frame is exposed and filled with the light of prayers and defining words of God and accountability to the One who rules from heaven.
“Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear
and celebrate his rule with trembling.
Kiss his son, or he will be angry
and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2:10-12)
I remember Stephen Mcalpine writing a piece some years ago, explaining why millennials are turning to more traditional forms of Christian worship. In the race to be contemporary and relevant, we too readily disconnect ourselves from the past and become the boat that’s lost its mooring. We need to place our souls and something in a schema that is bigger than just me.
Nick Cave is one of a few select Australians invited to attend the coronation. When news broke that Cave had accepted the invitation, some of his fans were bewildered and annoyed. They couldn’t understand why this super cool non-conforming rock star would attend what is about as traditional and conservative an event that will probably take place this year.
Nick Cave responded in an open letter,
This “will more than likely be the most important historical event in the UK of our age. Not just the most important, but the strangest, the weirdest”
I hold an inexplicable emotional attachment to the Royals – the strangeness of them, the deeply eccentric nature of the whole affair that so perfectly reflects the unique weirdness of Britain itself. I’m just drawn to that kind of thing – the bizarre, the uncanny, the stupefyingly spectacular, the awe-inspiring.
And as for what the young Nick Cave would have thought – well, the young Nick Cave was, in all due respect to the young Nick Cave, young, and like many young people, mostly demented, so I’m a little cautious around using him as a benchmark for what I should or should not do. He was cute though, I’ll give him that. Deranged, but cute.
So, with all that in mind, I am looking forward to going the Coronation. I think I’ll wear a suit.
The true weirdness isn’t in the crowning of a man named Charles, but in the words of the Bible about The representative man to whom all Kings and Queens and people owe their allegiance. Strangeness meets realness in the man who was crucified and raised from the dead.
The true significance of King Charles’ coronation may well be found elsewhere, in Africa. In what is even more strange (in an amazing way) are the events that took place in Kigali Rwanda, only 3 weeks ago. The meeting place may have lacked the splendour of Westminster Abbey, and there were few monarchs, presidents and celebrities in attendance. However, that meeting will do more to reach the heavens and the earth, than the enthronement of King Charles III. While world media ignored this meeting of global Anglicans, with time I suspect it will have greater influence in the shaping of things to come. 1400 Anglican leaders, representing around 85% of worldwide Anglicans, declared that the Archbishop of Canterbury had lost his spiritual authority over the church. Indeed, all 4 instruments of communion were declared broken.
It is difficult to think of another event in the past 500 years that carries such importance in the Anglican Communion as the recent GAFCON meeting.
William Taylor of St Helen’s Bishopsgate (London) said,
“Canterbury has walked away”
Rico Tice from All Souls Langham Place stated,
“We really are serious…we are serious because this is a first-order salvation issue”.
During the ceremony, the King will be asked this question by the Archbishop of Canterbury,
“the Church established by law, whose settlement you will swear to
maintain, is committed to the true profession of the Gospel, and, in so
doing, will seek to foster an environment in which people of all faiths and
beliefs may live freely. The Coronation Oath has stood for centuries and is
enshrined in law.
Are you willing to take the Oath?”
“I am willing.”
His Majesty will take an oath to a church, that while is established in law, has divorced herself from the true profession of the Gospel on account of her bishops and their wayward teaching. Sadly, the Church of England has abandoned the faith once for all delivered, and the vast majority of global Anglicans no longer see themselves in communion with Canterbury.
But why mention such a contentious issue on a day like this? First of all, this is truly historic. Second, we are witnessing a shift of in the world but we mustn’t conflate the failure of Westminster with the demise of Christianity. I suggested last year that with the death of Queen Elizabeth, we are perhaps marking the end of an era in the beginning of something new. With her passing, we are probably witnessing the closure of the 20th century and British imperialism (with all the bad and good that came). More so, Her Majesty’s death may serve as a bookmark, signalling the shift from West to the 2/3s World, and with this, a work of the Holy Spirit that sees Christ’s Church ground firmly in the soils of Africa and grassland and jungles of East Asia.
The coronation of King Charles III will pound with echoes of eternal truths, but living faith in the living Christ is more likely found in unlikely places: in Kigali and Lagos, in house churches across China and Iran, and in the favelas of Brazil. And yes, even in the ordinary suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. To break the materialist glass ceiling and grasp. To find mystery and awe that meets real life, visit a local church and hear the greatest story.