Let us pray for the King, enjoins Bradley Smith
There has been much speculation over the content of the coronation service. Which elements of traditional ritual will be quietly dropped? Will it be an inappropriately Christian affair? Will Christians of other denominations have a role? What about people of other faiths and none? Will there be a celebration of Holy Communion? Will the Prayer Book be used? How will it speak to society in a cost of living crisis?
What we will witness on 6 May will be a truly Christian ceremony, rooted in Judeo-Christian tradition and filled with rich and meaningful Christian symbolism. His Majesty the King is, as we all know, a passionate defender of religious freedom. That is a truly good thing, and it is perfectly appropriate that representatives of other religious traditions will have an honoured place in the Coronation celebrations. But a Christian ceremony, conducted in a Christian house of prayer, celebrated by Christian ministers for the Christian King of a Christian country, it will be.
His Majesty is a man of living Christian faith; and he knows that his sovereignty is exercised under the authority of God, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the only ruler of princes. The crown that will be placed on his head is surmounted with a representation of the cross of Jesus Christ. It will remind His Majesty that he, like all the baptised, is called to take up his cross and follow Christ, to live his life in accordance with the teaching of the One who came not to be served, but to serve, and to govern this nation in accordance with the values and teachings of the One who on earth had no crown of gold, but of thorns; who laid down his life in sacrifice to save those who had no power to save themselves.
He will have as his guide the Holy Scriptures: Our gracious King, we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; this is the Royal Law; these are the Lively Oracles of God. His Majesty is called to meditate upon the Law of God – as are we – and to find in the Scriptures teaching and inspiration, encouragement and hope; correction and direction as he seeks to navigate the complexities of our human existence whilst at the same time guiding our nation in the ways of peace, truth and justice. And he will exercise his solemn vocation in the strength of the holy anointing conferred upon him in the Abbey, strengthened with the gift of the Holy Spirit and set apart for a holy function.
When a man is ordained to the priesthood, he is changed; he leaves the place of his ordination a different person. But the grace of ordination extends beyond; enriching and sanctifying the whole Church, it is a gift to the whole Church, and not just to the individual priest. Similarly, His Majesty will leave the Abbey a changed man, and the grace of the holy anointing conferred upon in the coronation will sanctify the whole nation. The coronation is a gift to the whole nation, not just to the King himself.
Changed he will be for sure, but not invincible. In order to bear the weight of his calling, His Majesty will need the grace of the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood to sustain him on a pilgrimage that will inevitably be complex to navigate. The celebration of the Eucharist at the coronation is of absolute importance. His Majesty will be reminded that coming before the altar of God in humility and penitence, and receiving into his human body the sacred body and blood of Christ is central to the Christian life. The central act of the coronation itself must be central to the lives of believers. Without it, Christian disciples – be they kings, priests or laymen – have no strength, no life.
And His Majesty will need the prayers of his people. Yes, he will be changed by the sacred drama performed in the Abbey; but he will still be a man. By no means will he be immunized from the challenges and sorrows of life. There will be dark threads in the rich tapestry of his life, just as there are for all of us; but his life will be lived in the public eye, and it will be quite draining for him to continue to do his public duty at times of person sadness and distress when you and I would able to hide away. It would be naïve and foolish to think that the life of a monarch is an easy one.
The best and most important thing we can do for His Majesty the King is to pray for him; not just in these days leading up to the Coronation (although that is very important) but every day, praying that God will grant him the strength, the courage, the wisdom, the fortitude, and the faith that he will need to fulfil his vocation.
And we can pray for His Majesty the King in any words we choose. It may be as simple as God bless our King, his family and all in authority; or using some of the special Church of England prayers commissioned for these days ahead of the Coronation; as well as the Book of Common Prayer’s a collection of rich and beautiful prayers for the Sovereign and the Royal Family. They are hundreds of years old, and none the worse for that. To pray for the King is in fact to pray for our beloved nation, the land we call our own; to pray that, under his Reign, Almighty God will bless our whole nation, that peace and truth and justice may abound in our land.
May His Majesty’s Reign be long and glorious; may he keep his eyes firmly fixed on Jesus; may he ever defend freedom, truth and justice; may wisdom be his constant guide; and may he, at the end of his earthly life, receive the crown of everlasting life in the Kingdom of Christ’s glory where we shall all cast our crowns before the Father’s Throne of Grace.
Bradley Smith is Chairman of the Prayer Book Society.