The Monarch's calling, to be a unifying force
7 May 2023
This is the text of Bishop Graham's sermon delivered this morning in Norwich Cathedral at the service in thanksgiving for the Coronation of The King and Queen.
Psalm 72; 1 Kings 3. 5-10; Romans 13. 1-10
Of particular significance for our County were the words embroidered at the base of the screen that shielded the anointing of The King from public view yesterday. The words were revealed in this fine city 650 years ago to Mother Julian. “All shall be well”, she heard God say, “all manner of thing shall be well”.
For at the heart of yesterday, under all of the pomp and pageantry, under the rich symbols and ancient words, was a Christian pilgrim coming to King Edward’s shrine to stand before the Lord, pledging with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, to serve the King of Kings and the people of his Realms. To be a blessing, The King prayed, to “people of every faith and conviction that together we may discover the ways of gentleness and be led in the paths of peace.” His Majesty takes that very seriously, saying last year that he will “endeavour to serve [you] with loyalty, respect, and love.”
He will need much wisdom to live that out. Nearly three thousand years ago, Solomon, son of King David, fell asleep at a high place and dreamt not about what God needed him to sacrifice, but of God turning the tables and asking the young king what he needed. The temptation to speak of power and wealth and land must have been immense. Instead, because he didn’t really know what he was meant to be doing as King, he humbly asked for wisdom.
I wonder what sort of world we might live in if every ruler today was to model this humility and share their vulnerability? Because wisdom is ultimately for the sake of the people in your care as a leader; for the wellbeing of the neighbour. Seeking wisdom means finding your vocation to create a society in which other people might thrive, and that discernment always happens in community, with its checks and balances. This type of society is, as the letter to the Romans reminded us, built on Jesus’ command to love our neighbour.
The book of Proverbs, far from suggesting that we can buy or borrow or earn wisdom, says that ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’. Marinading ourselves in the holy scriptures, meeting God in the prayer of silence and the silence of prayer, and in holding out our hands as The King and Queen did yesterday to receive Christ’s presence in bread and wine – these are the ways Christians seek wisdom; developing a listening heart, fostering an understanding mind.
Psalm 72 picks up the theme of a king needing wisdom from God, especially when exercising judgement. The psalmist speaks about the ideal king defending the poor, standing between them and their oppressors. And yet we know all too well that Solomon was to lose his way and stop caring about his people and instead focus on himself. His heart and mind became crowded with other things, and no longer could he listen with his heart and discern with his mind. Come back, calls the psalmist to Solomon, to a vision of a world in harmony under God, the harmony of the Kingdom of God, where our rulers become channels of grace and peace.
When, as Prince of Wales, His Majesty wrote a book entitled ‘Harmony’ he sought out wisdom from the world’s faiths, writing that we have a problem with perception: “if we simply concentrate on fixing the outward problems without paying attention to [the] central, inner problem, then the deeper problem remains, and we will carry on casting around in the wilderness for the right path without a proper sense of where we took the wrong turn.”
His Majesty has banged the drum for unfashionable causes for decades. These causes are now often top of the agenda in how we care for creation, how we work for community cohesion in our inner cities, find ways for young people to find purpose and develop dreams, and use architecture to enable human flourishing. Harmony with creation; harmony in communities; harmony for the young; harmony in the built environment. I would argue that we have a King in tune with seeking wisdom who, in turn, has much to lay before our Nation and the Commonwealth so as, in the coming years, to build the common good.
The Cosmati Pavement in front of the High Altar in Westminster Abbey, on which the King was crowned, was laid out by Henry III’s workmen. Its central alabaster roundel marks where William, Duke of Normandy, was crowned on Christmas Day 1066, and where subsequent kings and queens have sat in the Coronation Chair. In the mystical work of Medieval art which is this pavement, the central roundel is the earth, coloured in with the four elements of fire, air, water and earth, and around which the planets circle. The Monarch’s Coronation thus happens at the heart of what in essence is a map of the universe. His role is to be a unifying force; a still centre always seeking stability and harmony. But he also sat upon the Stone of Destiny, which legend says is the stone that Jacob laid his head on when he dreamt of angels ascending and descending a ladder stretching to heaven. So, this is both an earthed place bringing the harmony of heaven to the whole universe, as well as a place to dream dreams of the Kingdom of God.
That is the Monarch’s calling and why our King and his Queen need our prayers. My first words to The Queen yesterday were, “Ma’am, all shall be well, all shall be well”. That will be my ongoing prayer for Their Majesties. Come Holy Spirit and give Their Majesties the needful gifts to live their calling to serve with wisdom so that all shall be well.