God Didn’t Save the King of kings

The coronations of Charles III and Jesus of Nazareth

The second the life of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II ended – and it was a majestic life – Charles III became King.

But declaring and celebrating a new era at that point would have been … let’s say poor form. This weekend Charles III will be officially crowned monarch of the United Kingdom in a magnificent ceremony soaked in Christian symbolism.

In his relation to the Church of England, Charles III has been, and will likely continue to be, subject to criticism.

But rather than focus on his personal religious convictions, why not enjoy the profound ways the coronation service transcends our cultural moment? As British historian Ian Bradley notes, the United Kingdom is the only country which still celebrates the accession of a monarch with a coronation, with a service whose basic format has persisted for over a thousand years.

To appreciate the magnitude and uniqueness of what will take place on Saturday, we must consider it in light of another coronation. We will only understand the profound words and symbols of the coronation of Charles III if we consider the coronation of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ, King of kings

Ages before Charles III was born in Buckingham Palace, a baby was born in a manger in the ignoble town of Bethlehem. Charles was born into the royal line of the United Kingdom; Jesus into the royal bloodline of Israel – but not of current royalty; of the prophesied line of David.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey Iacihobo / Wikimedia Commons

Like Charles, it would be decades before this boy would lay claim to the throne. But unlike Charles, his claim was contested. Just as Israel rejected the Lord as their king during the time of the Old Testament, so they rejected Jesus as their king.

The prophet Zechariah wrote, “Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey.” (9:9)

Half a millennium later, the crowds welcomed a man on a donkey into Jerusalem, shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” When the religious leaders told him to rebuke them, he replied that if they did not announce his procession, the very stones of Jerusalem would (Luke 17:37-40; cf. Matt 21:9).

Mere days later, the crowds of Jerusalem shouted for their king to be crucified. Jesus did not receive a crown of gold, but a crown of thorns. Not a sceptre, but a staff. Their displays of honour and his royal robe were a sick joke.

Where was Jesus declared to be King? A notice, fastened to history’s most gruesome torture device, read Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews.

Yet, according to the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, it is precisely because Jesus suffered death that he is now “crowned with glory and honour” (2:9). And it is precisely on the basis of his indestructible life that Jesus became the eternal high priest, offering himself once and for all for our sins, yet always living to intercede for us (7:16; 25; 27). In his death and resurrection, the Son of Man became the great high priest and the King of kings, whose kingdom will never end.

The coronation of Charles III will be soaked with references to this profound reversal and the ministry which set the scene for it. Every element of Saturday’s ceremony pays homage to the reign of Jesus and to his authority even over the monarch.

Charles III, King of the United Kingdom

The declaration of King Charles as king will likewise begin with a procession. A young person will greet him and say, “Your Majesty, as children of the Kingdom of God we welcome you in the name of the King of kings.”

To which Charles will respond, “In his name, and after his example, I come not to be served but to serve.”

From the start, the tone is shockingly humble, influenced by the King who made himself nothing, taking the nature of a servant and humbling himself even to the point of death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8).

A series of prayers will mark the beginning of the Holy Communion service which envelopes the ceremony. The King will be recognised, and oaths made. He will commit to the execution of law and justice, in mercy. A gloria hymn will be sung, praising God, then several Bible readings will precede a sermon from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

King Charles will be anointed with oil, just as Jesus is called the Messiah – ‘the anointed’. Traditionally, the monarch is anointed in simple linen clothes which symbolise humility, before the presentation of various ‘regalia’, royal symbols full of allusion to the kingship of Christ.

Crown Jewels

The Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, along with other regalia. Firebrace / Wikimedia Commons

The royal garments symbolise the priestly character of monarchy. Jesus is the great King and the great high priest. Under him, Charles is to be a king and priest over the United Kingdom.

The ring symbolises the wedding of king and country, and is “a sign of the covenant sworn this day between God and King, King and people.”

The sword is “a sign and symbol not of judgment, but of justice; not of might, but of mercy.”

The enormous gold orb is surmounted by a diamond-studded cross, a reminder that “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ.”

The sceptre is solid gold, topped with the largest clear-cut diamond in the world, itself topped by a cross.

Finally, the crown consists of 3 kilograms of solid gold. Two arches symbolise sovereignty, over which stands – you guessed it – a cross, a reminder that Jesus Christ “lives and reigns, supreme over all things”. Having received his regalia, the King of the United Kingdom will sit on the throne.

The Great Coronation

After the enthronement and before the outward procession, Holy Communion will take place – the most poignant reminder that it is “the Lamb [who] is Lord of lords and King of kings.” (Rev 17?) The gathering will remember what sort of King Jesus is.

What sort of king could, much less would, lay down his own life in place of ours, suffer the full punishment for our failure, rescue us from slavery to sin in the dominion of darkness and pay the immeasurable debt we could never afford, so that we might be saved and united to him?

Praise the Lord that “after he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Hebrews 1:3) At the Great Coronation, angels worshiped the King of kings. God declared his supremacy, anointing him with the oil of joy and welcoming him to the seat of honour at his right hand (Hebrews 1).

So the coronation of King Charles III on Saturday will be a ceremony of both profound solemnity and great celebration, and at the end of the day a new monarch will sit on the throne. Yet from start to finish, both subtly and overtly, the ultimate focus will be on Jesus, the King of kings.