What the Coronation of King Charles III teaches us about leadership and service.
Did you watch the coronation of King Charles III? If you didn’t, you missed a lot, especially the lessons we can glean from such an event regarding leadership and service. So let me fill you in.
It was a profound moment in British monarchical history. Unlike the late Queen, who ascended the throne at age 25, Charles comes to the throne at age 74! He was only three years old when his mother became queen, so most of his life has been spent preparing for this moment.
How well he prepared is left to be seen, but Charles’ vision of his reign and legacy rang through loudly and clearly in the details of his coronation.
The Monarchy and the Church
Several elements stood out in the carefully planned two- and half-hour ceremony led by Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury:
First, it was a meticulous blending of ancient traditions and modern-day customs. Coronations involve traditions that go back to medieval times. Yet we were watching the inner workings of a monarchical system operating in a constitutional democracy in the 21st-century context.
As one writer points out, the monarchy and the church share much in common, including the fact that both are age-old institutions seeking to survive in a rapidly changing world.
The Singing of Christian Hymns
Second, it was overtly Christian in tone, despite the hugely ecumenical audience. Representatives of various religions—Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and more—sat through the reading of Scriptures, the singing of Christian hymns (including Christ is Made the Sure Foundation), and the celebration of the Eucharist!
In the Name of the King of Kings
Third, beginning with the Archbishop’s opening line, “I welcome you in the name of the King of kings,” there was a clear effort to give deference to the only true Sovereign—Jesus Christ.
This continued with the Scripture reading from Colossians, including these verses: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him, all things hold together.”
I Come, Not to Be Served, but to Serve
Fourth, amidst the pomp and circumstances, the underlying theme of service was unmistakable. Paraphrasing Jesus’ well-known words, Charles III vowed, “In His name and after His example, I come, not to be served, but to serve.”
How the new King will serve was answered by the reading of another well-known Scripture passage: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Caring for the defenseless and vulnerable, giving attention to matters of freedom, justice, and liberty, sets the standard for all godly leadership and governments, for monarchies worthy of honor.
Defender of the Faith
Fifth, rich symbolism adorned the occasion. When given the sword the King was reminded that his rule is “not of might, but of mercy.” Placing a glove on one hand, he was reminded to “hold power gently.”
There was also the golden orb with a cross mounted on top, symbolizing not only the realms and territories to which the King will serve as the defender of the faith, but the eventual coronation in Revelation when all creation sings, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever!”
But the most sacred moment was the consecration, so sacred that it was kept from public view by screens placed before the high altar. Mimicking the rituals of the Aaronic priesthood, the King’s vestments were removed, so standing bare before God he was anointed with “chrism oil,” pressed in Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives.
A Rich Display of Diversity
Sixth, it was observed that, unlike the mostly white, male, aristocratic audience at the Queen’s 1953 coronation, the recent event featured a rich display of ethnic and gender diversity, not only in the makeup of the audience but in the program participants.
Most notable were the key roles played by women and blacks, which is of no small significance considering England’s patriarchal history and its role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. We cannot undo the past, but we can be deliberate in setting a new course for the future, so the liturgy included the singing of a black gospel choir, hand-picked by King Charles!
This list could go on and on, so let me conclude with a few additional observations from the coronation that speak directly to leadership:
In Charles’ long wait to become king, we see what is called “the ascent of a leader”—how one gets to his or position of leadership and the importance of timing and preparation.
Power and Authority
The Archbishop’s opening line—“We are here to crown a king, and we crown a king to serve; what is given here is for the gain of all”—underscores that leadership is never about a single individual; it is rather about serving people.
Finally, the coronation spoke volumes about the importance of personal integrity. Those old enough to remember Princess Diana couldn’t help but think of her as Camilla, whom Diana described as the third person in her marriage, was crowned alongside Charles as Queen Consort.The coronation spoke volumes about the importance of personal integrity. – Whaid Rose Click To Tweet
Though Charles and Camilla are more suited to each other than Charles and Diana were, and despite the British people’s gradual acceptance of Camilla in Diana’s place, Charles’ marital unfaithfulness remains a blemish on his character and diminishes the integrity of his vows to God and his subjects.
God’s grace is greater than the leader’s biggest failure, but it doesn’t erase the past or change present reality. By his moral failure, King David forfeited the privilege of building a house for God. One wonders what Charles’s moral failure will eventually cost his reign and legacy, or perhaps already has.
So, if you didn’t watch the live event, I hope these thoughts serve as an incentive for you to watch the recording. Coronations don’t happen often, and they remind us that ultimately, it is God who sets up kings and removes them (Daniel 2:21), a point well made by the gospel choir as they sang, “Sing praises unto our King, for God is the King over all the earth!”
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