Like many around the world, I watched the coronation of King Charles III of England, Scotland, and Wales, in a full replay yesterday. To be honest, I had mixed feelings.
The spectacle was splendid, to be sure, and as an Anglican I enjoyed seeing the rites so beautifully done, with horns and violins and children’s choirs, talented soloists, all in the gilded holy setting in Westminster Abbey, something one does not forget. Many of the hymns were traditional, hymns we sing today in our little chapel in Berkeley. The words of the Eucharist sounded the same as our own rite, meaning they used the traditional Book of Common Prayer. There were modern touches, to be sure, in an effort to bring in everyone, other faiths and other musical traditions. It all was a grand drama, in a glittering golden abbey going back to Edward the Confessor (1002-1066), both saint and king, whose chair Charles occupied as he was anointed and handed the jeweled scepter, sword, and orb. In our travels to London, we saw the King’s chair many times in the Abbey, for it was usually on display behind the altar, and could be seen from the ambulatory. At times it was hidden from the public.
Through the years we have watched security tighten at the Abbey, fees charged, tours overseen carefully. We tried to be in London on a Sunday afternoon to sit in the choir for 3:30 Evensong.
The Abbey design reflects the monastery plan, a long choir and sanctuary, separated from the public by a screen, not affording the best views for visitors. But as Internet viewers, we were treated to views from cameras placed in key locations, so that we had many close-ups of the King and his Queen Consort, a great burden for the principals who must endure close examination worldwide. They do indeed live in a fish bowl.
Which brings me to King Charles who, in this ceremony, vows to keep the Commandments, among other vows. I wondered if he had ever confessed his adulterous affair with Camilla. I wondered if he had ever received absolution from the very Church that was anointing him. Somehow I doubted it, seeing Camilla crowned as well, and accepting her own throne to his side.
It should have been Diana, as we all know all too well.
But we are moving on, we are told, forgiving and forgetting, and to be sure, the royal pair reflect current mores, in spite of the expectation of truth when making a vow with one’s hand placed upon the Bible. Perhaps it is the medieval service itself that seems anachronistic, unsuited to today’s amorality. And once I separated the two unlikely royals from the coronation rituals, I could enjoy the pomp and circumstance. After all, who am I to judge? After all, we are all sinners, are we not?
It must be said, as the cameras lingered on the face of the new King, that there was much doubt and a little fear, perhaps confusion, in his expression. For a modern fellow whose religion is climate change, it must have been a challenge for him to go through the nearly three hours of meaningless words and actions, at least from his perspective.
It is said, and certainly somewhat true, that the monarchy, with all its rituals and wealth, serves Britain as a cohesive symbol of a better land, a Camelot, a hopeful prototype of the perfect kingdom on earth. I understand the use and the power of symbols and symbolic rites, and would agree that they are important. Perhaps the King and Queen will act out their part, no small task, and invest majesty with magisterium. Perhaps we can forget Diana, so wronged by these two royals, and embrace the glittery golden dream.
It is also true that the King has little power, and is largely a figurehead. Somewhat comforting.
And yet, I would have liked to see Queen Elizabeth deny her son – this son – the crown. I would have liked to see William and Kate crowned yesterday. But as an American, what right do I have to comment? I suppose as an inheritor of Western Civilization, the glorious Judeo-Christian history of tradition and freedom, human dignity and brotherly love, that revolutionary way that burst upon the world to remake it, rebirth it, as it did for over two thousand years, I have a heartfelt interest in such civilization’s survival. I have an interest in Christ our King returning to reign in his Kingdom on earth, a Kingdom of justice and mercy, law and order, fidelity and faith.
It was a beautiful drama yesterday, perhaps a dream, for it was too beautiful to be real and too glorious for the vainglorious. Still, as I watched the many guests process up that aisle and take their seats, and as I saw the royals emerge from their golden fairy tale carriage, I was hopeful for our world. We glimpsed Camelot yesterday. We glimpsed a dream. And some dreams are worth pursuing and not forgotten in the early dawn.
I pray this might be so, especially in this Eastertide, in the glorious celebration of resurrection and eternal life.