Coronation Evensong

  • Preacher

    The Very Rev'd Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark

  • Lections

    1 Kings 3.5-10, 1 Peter 2.9-17

The Dean's sermon preached at Choral Evensong celebrating the Coronation of King Charles III.

Before you ask me, no, I haven’t met the King, but I have met the Prince of Wales, the last Prince of Wales, the one who’s now the King.  In fact, I’ve met him twice, once with Camilla, now Queen and once without.

The first time was when he came alone.  He was here to see what were then the new Millennium Buildings.  We all lined up outside, in the churchyard, where we’d been presented to his mother, The Queen on Millennium Eve.  Now we waited for him to come down those same steps.  It was so funny.  We employed a guy then, sadly I’ve forgotten his name, a really interesting chap, a bit of an artist but he was part of the maintenance team and he’d been giving the churchyard a final sweep before the royal feet touched the flag stones.

We were all lined up in order and he, somehow, without any permission - can you believe it - placed himself at the end of the line up, his broom parked to one side.

‘Your Royal Highness’ we said as the Dean, Colin Slee, presented us.  Prince Charles said something, not sure what – ‘not another clergyman?’ probably – and moved on.  ‘Your Royal Highness’, ‘Your Royal Highness’, he moved down the line of dog collars.  And then at the end, rather startled, the Dean had to present the chap who’d just been sweeping.  Prince Charles was delighted – or so it seemed – someone normal and he engaged him in a long conversation about everything, much to the amazement/annoyance/shock of the mitred, dog collared individuals. 

When he saw the link, he asked Colin why we’d built a greenhouse alongside a lovely gothic building – but I draw a veil over that.

By the time of the second visit Charles had married Camilla.  He was visiting the Borough Market and dropping into the Cathedral.  I was there to receive him with the Market trustees and to then escort him round some of the stalls.

Traders were taking every vantage point, from which to catch a glimpse and shout out their greetings. ‘You all right, Charlie?’ came the shouts.  He waved and beamed.

We were guided to Maria’s Café in the heart of the Market.  We were due to have tea there.  The trademark white mugs were ready for our arrival, three of them lined up.  Maria had had the tea on for a while.  The choice on offer was tea or no tea.  Looking at the brown liquid in his white mug the Prince said, ‘I suppose First Flush Darjeeling is out the question?’ Marie roared with laughter, as did we all, and that was the wonderful picture that made the national press, all with our mugs of steaming brew, the royal couple happy and relaxed, ready to joke but also there because of his passion for food and agriculture and sustainability and all the things the market stands for.

Now he is King; now she is Queen and we’ve been celebrating, rejoicing, each in our different ways, and stunned and affected, I think, by the sheer magnificence of the Coronation, yesterday.

King David had died.  He was a wonderful King of Israel, of the united kingdom of Israel.  He was flawed, capricious in many ways, yet he was the anointed of God.  But he had died, and his son and heir had to step up to occupy the throne in a peaceful transition – well, as peaceful as you could achieve in those days.  But what kind of king was he to be.  How could he follow his father?  And as we heard in our First Lesson, God spoke to him and offered him whatever he wanted. 

As we know Solomon, wasn’t looking so much for wealth or prestige, what he was looking for was wisdom, the wisdom to be a wise, good ruler.  What he asked for as we heard was

‘an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.’

God gave him wisdom, and riches and prestige, and power over his enemies.  But it is for his wisdom that we remember him.

Until yesterday most of us were too young to have witnessed a coronation – now we’ve caught up with all those who watched the last one in 1953.  But the King had been there, watched his mother being crowned.  He was just 4 years old and he stood between his grandmother, The Queen Mother, and his auntie, Princess Margaret, as the Archbishop placed the crown on his mother’s head.

There’s a wonderful photo you can find online of him leaning on the upholstered edge of the balcony he was placed in in the Abbey, visibly bored.  But in that boredom did he think then that this would one day happen to him?  The King has served the longest apprenticeship of anyone, stood in the wings, looked on, developed his own passions, travelled the world, toured the country, in waiting, preparing.

Yesterday we witnessed the most amazing pageantry and so many symbolic acts.  We honoured the King as St Peter in the Second Letter encourages us to do and we’ve been praying for the one on whose head the crown was placed and on whose shoulders we all placed our expectations.

The poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, has written a poem to mark the occasion and weaved into it words written by Samuel Pepys when he was at a coronation.  But Armitage writes from the perspective of one of those many wonderful but ordinary people who were invited this time to be there, not a Lord, not a Lady, but someone who in the poet’s words

adorned the day with ordinariness;

… blessed to have brought the extraordinary home.

But at the heart of the poem, when she has arrived at the Abbey in new shoes, clutching her invitation card, we read this

Somewhere further along and deeper in

there are golden and sacred things going on:

glimpses of crimson, flashes of jewels

like flames, high priests in their best bling,

the solemn wording of incantations and spells,

till the part where promise and prayer become fused:

the moment is struck, a pact is sworn.

We have entered a pact, a solemn, anointed moment, King and Queen and subjects, the extraordinary that we experienced in the ordinariness of our homes.

King Charles has what is often called ‘the common touch’ – I saw it with my lovely colleague who’d been sweeping the leaves, I saw it in the market as a mug of tea was sipped and the smile spread across his face.

We can call the common touch, humanity, and yesterday we saw it crowned, but all in the presence and by the grace and with the blessing of the incarnate God, the man, crowned with thorns but crowned with glory now, who stepped into our ordinariness so that we could stand at the last not before not an earthly but a heavenly throne, not a temporal but an eternal throne, prince and pauper, king and commoner, brother and sister, at one. 

We have entered a new age.  God save the King.