Sermon, Easter III, (Coronation Series II) Sunday 24 April 2023 – the Vicar

We are continuing a study of the Coronation rite. Last week we covered the early part of the service.

This week we shall explore three things:

  1. The reality that this rite takes place within a Eucharist, which connects nicely with today’s Gospel passage about the Road to Emmaus.
  2. Secondly we shall look at the readings.
  3. After that, at the very heart of the rite – the anointing takes place, and I want to unpack that and the crowning.

What does our Eucharistic prayer pray?

It is very meet right and our bounden duty that we should at all times and in all places give thanks.

What does Jesus do when he meets his confused disciples on that first Easter day at evening on the road to Emmaus? He takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it. The fourfold act of thanksgiving is seen here in the instant before Jesus vanishes. The Eucharist, this action for all times and in all places, is the crowning celebration of our Christian life. It is how we know Jesus, and how he comes to make his home in us. It is not surprising that a Christian action of supreme significance should be situated with the Eucharist. I have been making something of a study of the Coronation rite and it developed from the early 8th c, with more ancient precedent still, and what its compilers were reaching for was ordination. A special sort of ordination, but an ordination nevertheless. And just as deacons, priests and Bishops were consecrated within Eucharistic celebrations it was perfectly natural that Kings should be too.

We are sure that the King’s personal preference for the use of the 1662 Prayer Book will mean that it has the same cadences as the rite we use here.

There are two readings which follow. Normally they are read by the two Bishops who carry in the chalice and patten during the procession of the regalia at the start. Incidentally they are both made of solid gold, and along with most of the rest of the regalia were all made from scratch in 1661, after Oliver Cromwell broke up, melted down or sold off the contents of the Jewel House in 1649. We’ll discover more about the regalia next week.

The readings are rather unusual. The first reading has been read at every coronation from the Coronation of Edward III, I Peter 2: 13-19. The tone of this reading, alongside Matthew’s account of Jesus’s injunction to “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”, reads strangely today. Hearing this apparent double-whammy of requirement to submit to temporal rule might seem coercive in the modern age.

First, we might need to underline that these two New Testament texts issue from a time fraught with primitive Christian suffering and persecution. Peter and Matthew were victims themselves of the savage treatment of leading Christians in the first century. These readings are more subtle than a quiescent acceptance of the validity of secular authority, come what may.

They seem to share an underlying grasp that Jesus’s call to Render to Caesar, has more than a dose of irony implied in it. There have been scholars who have proposed that Jesus was linked, through the surnames of two of the Twelve, with first century anti-Roman insurgency. Judas Iscariot may have been one of the notorious sicarii – first century brigands, known for their indiscriminate knife attacks. Simon the Zealot was almost certainly connected with another brand of active freedom-fighting. How far we can suggest Jesus was directly associated with either terrorist cell, when his message of peace and non-violence characterised his ministry (and note particularly Jesus’s arrest), is hard to say, but there was ferment on every front at the time of Our Lord’s ministry.

We know that a Roman denarius in the first century bore the Latin inscription Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti Filius Augustus Pontifex Maximus (Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest).

In Matthew’s account, Jesus is goaded by the Herodians to declare either for the freedom movement generally, or the loathed status quo of cooperation with the Romans. In answer, Jesus does not declare as particularly cooperative with Rome. Matthew may have been more interested in Jesus’s adroitness in avoiding being trapped by his hostile questioners. The Gospel writers’ aim is to underline most firmly that Jesus’s challenge is to concentrate properly on the things of God, rather than anything of Caesar’s.

You might be pleased to hear as the clock is about to ring 11 am, that at the Coronation there has not been a sermon since 1902! In the ancient manuals there is a rubric – a short sermon is preached. These are long services, and there is not much getting away from that.

Where the sermon might have been, we move into the ritualised parts of the proceedings.

Just as at this point in the 8th c. AD a Bishop would then be clothed specially and ordained, so issues to do with vesture, anointing and investiture come to the fore.

So, the king will then divest himself of his rich crimson outer robes.

We are witnessing a death.

Just as in baptism the candidate wears white – the symbol of purity and new life, so the king’s outer garments will reveal probably a loose linen shirt openable at the top. A canopy will be brought forward, possibly one held by children, there has been talk there may be pupils from Christ’s Hospital in their paupers’ uniform of yellow stockings and long blue frockcoats. Whichever way, the anointing is shielded from view. One person I interviewed for the podcast I have done suggested that in the televisual age not to film something was as bold a statement as it might be possible to make.

I have made comments perhaps already about the anointing oil, but given the intensity of events in Jerusalem it bears repeating.

The Mt of Olives in Jerusalem sits opposite the Temple Mount, the place of the Dome of the Rock. Jesus rose to heaven from there, according to most of the NT accounts. Looking from the central part of the Jerusalem Temple to the rising sun at morning, the Mt of Olives is utterly in shade with the sun behind it. It is a magical site. The prophet Ezekiel sees the glory of God leaving the Temple and its first place of rest is over the Mt of Olives. The later prophet Zechariah sees further cataclysms, and the Mt of Olives cut in half and a place of rescue for the faithful that pass through it. The southerly slope of the ridge is covered in Jewish graves, the most sought after place to be buried, because of the beliefs associated with the end of the age. The ridge itself is quite simply breath-takingly beautiful. Part of Jerusalem’s pain is its exquisite majesty.

Ten measures of beauty gave God to the world, nine to Jerusalem and one to the remainder. Ten measures of sorrow gave God to the world, nine to Jerusalem and one to the remainder.

The oil to be used in 2023 was from olives harvested on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem, which is part of the Garden of Gethsemane. The link with Our Lord’s Passion is of singular character. In the same tranquil garden are buried in the Russian Monastery of St Mary Magdalene, two Orthodox religious. St Elizabeth of Russia, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and sister of the last Tsarina of Russia, and Elizabeth’s niece and goddaughter, Princess Alice of Battenburg and Greece, our King’s grandmother. Both women were brave and remarkable and are remembered for their courage and their reward is to rest in a place of the greatest sanctity. The French kings have a tradition that when Clovis was converted in 496, Oil from Heaven was passed down to be used in perpetuity. It was preserved in the Sainte Ampoule. Much later on a tradition arose that the BVM gave oil to Thomas Becket, while in exile in Sens. This oil was kept in an ampulla, where it got forgotten. Richard II discovered it and used it as a talisman in battle. It was then used for four coronations. Thereafter at different intervals the Oil has been prepared and mixed. There are differing recipes. All of them include balsam a rich aromatic fragrance, which was famously expensive – the balm in Gilead.

This Oil, which, as you know, we use following baptism, symbolises the descent of the Holy Spirit to each of us. It is a personal Pentecost and it effects a change. It is sacramental. This is why the coronation is such an unusual rite. There were many reasons for the reformers to do away with it in the 16th c, and the Papacy was pretty keen it should cease to be used in the 13th. The German Protestant Georges only kept it in use because of Handel’s remarkable music to accompany it. They had none of that sort of nonsense in Hanover.

The blessing by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, the direct successor to the James the brother of the Lord, and a Bishop of the faith of the King’s grandmother and her aunt and of his course his own father, was a profoundly new departure ecumenically.

Patriarch Theophilus’s willingness to undertake this, with his Palestinian colleague Archbishop Hosam, in the city David made his capital and in which Solomon built the Temple, the site of which is now a most holy Muslim site, causes this aromatic oil to hold within it the beauty and pain of that aching place of so many of our hopes and aspirations. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem the Psalmist says and the choir will sing as part of Parry’s I was glad. Praying for peace, when such a prayer seems impossible is what Christian hope has at its heart.

The King’s crowning, which follows soon after the anointing, is the outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible truth of this personal Pentecost. The crown, while a sign of Kingship, holds within it symbolism of priesthood from the Old Testament as well, and the Crown of Thorns with which Our Lord was crowned.

Come back next week for the next thrilling instalment.






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