Easter 5, 7 May 2023
Twelve years ago I received a telephone call from someone who worked as a representative of the Monarch here in Haringey. She said a VIP was going to come and visit the parish. Oooh, that sounds exciting, I thought, expecting it was going to be some Duke or Duchess I’d never heard of. We made the preparations. He was going to visit business leaders downstairs in the Kemble Hall after I’d walked him across the Vicarage Garden. She was going to have tea with some members of the congregation and others from community groups. And through all this I was never told who “he” or “she” was. Fine. I just hoped someone would tell me on the day who they were in case I’d never heard of said Duke or Duchess when they arrived. And then the day before the visit, I spoke to my contact and we were talking about him visiting and her visiting and my contact said, “Well, she’s much better now after her skiing accident so she should still be coming.” Ah-ha, I thought. A clue. A quick google search after the telephone conversation and I discovered our visitors, he and she, were actually as they were known then Prince Charles and Camila, Duchess of Cornwall. My mouth hit the floor as I really wasn’t expecting anyone quite so senior and panic definitely set in! The visit went very smoothly, thankfully.
A significant event happened in the life of our nation yesterday. Now, it is perfectly possible for us as Christians to be Republican or Monarchist. We might have loved yesterday, despised it all or been slightly ambivalent. Whichever camp we fall in to, I hope I can offer some reflections which help us all grow in our faith and our following of Jesus Christ.
First, let me encourage us to have the ability to disagree well about these sorts of issues which tend to get people worked up. Modern society is clear that everyone has a voice and as Christians we rejoice in that. What is less clear is how that voice is to be articulated. Where does one person’s right to expression lead to another person’s day being ruined? As Christians we know that rights are always balanced with responsibilities to others. This is also true of those seeking to protest about a whole range of hot issues in our own age. Anger often arises simply because folk see disagreement as a bad thing. In contrast, one of the great blessings of parish churches at their best is that they are places where we will disagree about things but we recognise something higher has called us together, a love of the Lord Jesus Christ and a desire to celebrate that love He also has for others who are not the same as me.
While there will be difference we have also to recognise that there is only one truth. Our Lord proclaims in today’s Gospel that he is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” There is no room for us to believe there are lots of different ways to get to God. There is “one Lord, one faith, one Baptism” (Ephesians 4:5); one Good Shepherd, with His one flock. And ues, there are sheep outside of the fold, Jesus asserts in his Good Shepherd reflections in St John 10:16, but this is only a temporary situation and it needs to end. The Lord is the precious cornerstone, as St Peter wrote in that second reading, and there is none other on whom we can build our lives, other than the Son of the Father, Christ Jesus our Lord.
Secondly, I always think that if there is to be a blessing received from having a hierarchical human society - and no one really seems to have a created an alternative way of doing things - then it should be that because we give to some people particular dignity and honour we realise we must never diminish the dignity and honour of all men and women by virtue of their being made in the image of God. If the Coronation makes any sense the main reason for this must be that men and women are created in His image: it would be daft if we crowned cats or horses, and claimed for them a similar station in life. But it would also be daft if we thought it right to crown a king yet thought it alright to be rude to someone poor in the things of this world. The challenge for us as Christians surely is not to say that the King should not be treated well (a decision ultimately beyond our pay grade) but for us to never tire in ensuring that that person over there - our neighbour, whoever they may be - is treated well.
The Church’s rites reflected this in the Coronation. For the two most important parts of the rite for the trained eye were nothing to do with gold clothes or stones from Scotland or orbs and sceptres but two things that should be very familiar to us. First, the King was anointed (concealed behind a screen as has been the tradition for some time) with oil consecrated in Jerusalem made from the Mount of Olives. Its provenance however makes no difference to the grace it imparts. When we anoint the newly baptised with the Oil of Chrism immediately after their baptism we are confident of the same powerful God at work in them as we pray was will be at work in the King. One important part of the evolution of kingship in the Old Testament is that it’s not the strongest and best who are chosen, but the Sauls and Davids of this world through whom God is able to do mighty things, almost despite themselves. The Oil of Chrism is used at our Baptism to indicate a dignity all women and men are able to share, a dignity born of being made in the image of God but which supersedes it, meaning we can also share in His eternal life.
The other of the two high points of the Coronation was the receiving of Holy Communion. Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation seventy years ago was the only time we saw her receiving Holy Communion on the TV. It too is seen as a largely private affair. This reminds us of the great intimacy we share when we too receive Holy Communion. In that moment we hold the Lord of Heaven and earth concealed under the forms of bread and we are commanded to eat: “Do this in memory of me.” But again this is something which the Church makes available to so many, to all those confirmed and admitted to Holy Communion. We prepare for the Sacrament of Confirmation through attending classes that the Holy Spirit might well up within us still greater things. We prepare too for those moments when we receive Holy Communion, through our devout attentiveness and prayerfulness before and during Mass. Even so, this treasure of the Christian’s life is so readily available, this gift of the Body and Blood of the Lord.
Thirdly, for the King, yesterday will have been the culmination of years of preparation. At times he must have wondered whether it would ever happen. The Coronation indicates a change in his place within society and it is good that the Church honours that moment of passage. It has many hallmarks of an ordination, the rite which sets apart particular men to be deacons, priests and bishops. There was oil involved, a new garment was put on, there were questions and answers within the service for the King to pledge his commitment to his new life and seeking the assent and support of those gathered. We are each of us to have a role to play within the fellowship of the Church, a precedent set by our Lord Himself in choosing the Twelve Apostles - “Follow me,” - and continues, as we heard in our first reading, with the ordination of the first deacons to assist them.
I wonder if the Church universal, we in our local Church family and indeed we individually need to be better at considering the Lord at moments of transition in our own life? Do we realise that joining the gym, forming a relationship with this person, changing jobs, moving to a new home, or whatever has potential knock-on effects to our relationship with Jesus Christ? My observations from afar in people’s lives is that - and I could be wrong - it seems all too often that decisions are not made with any consideration whatsoever to how it will affect the person’s relationship with our Blessed Lord. I would also because of this encourage you to invite the Church into moments you are celebrating. I think it’s tremendous when people come to Mass on their birthday or wedding anniversaries or when starting a new job and seek a special prayer, for example. Getting a priest to bless our home when we move in or if there’s a particular reason is also a worthwhile thing to do. My friends, don’t segregate your life in to work, family, church, let the Church into all the different bits and consider more and more ways to do so. Share good ideas with each other.
At the very least yesterday, then we celebrated an important moment in the life of our fellow Christians, the King and Queen. I hope whatever our political views we can each of us consider how we mark similar changes in our own life with earnest prayer seeking God’s help, and especially when decisions are to be made. I hope we can look now beyond the pomp of which celebratity was or was not there yesterday and realise that thanks to God’s amazing generosity we and all people are invited to share in the beautiful gifts of the anointing with holy oil and the receiving of Holy Communion. And thus, as we are formed in to Christ’s priestly people, may our disagreements not be causes for anger but opportunity to listen and share. Amen.