In this moment…
Sunday 7 May, 2023 10.30am Eucharist Service, Fifth Sunday of Easter
‘In this moment…’ a sermon preached by The Very Reverend Nicholas Papadopulos, Dean of Salisbury
Acts 7: 55-end
There were cheering crowds and marching bands. There were gorgeous robes and glittering regalia. There was sublime music and devotional quiet. There were heads of government, heads of state, and A-List celebrities.
And at the heart of it all was one man clad, albeit briefly, in a simple white tunic, kneeling to receive anointing.
More is known about him than about any of his predecessors. He has lived for more than seven decades in the unyielding glare of public attention and public enquiry. His handwritten letters have been published. His intimate conversations have been broadcast. His opinions on agriculture, town-planning, climate change, young people, and architecture have been held up for display and debate. His close relationships have been dissected. He has been mocked as a figure of fun, pilloried as a target of scorn, and written off as a supreme irrelevance.
Yet despite all of that he was seen afresh yesterday, clad not in a military uniform, or crown and train; not in Balmoral kilt, or country tweeds – but in that simple white tunic, in which he knelt and received anointing.
The oil with which he was anointed was pressed, as we have been told, from the olives of Jerusalem. They were grown on the hillside where his grandmother is buried. It is the hillside where Jesus spent the last hours before his arrest. These were hours when the disciples failed repeatedly to keep watch with him, hours when Jesus could rely on no human companionship or human solidarity, but only on that of God. Yesterday that oil was poured out upon his head, his breast, and his hands, as the tangible assurance of God’s companionship and God’s solidarity in the face of whatever his reign will bring – in the face of whatever new loss, unexpected sadness or fresh betrayal may lie ahead of him.
He was not anointed because he deserved to be anointed. It was not a mark of his status or still less a seal of God’s approval of him. He was anointed because, in kneeling, he admitted his need of it. He was anointed because the burdens placed upon him are such that in his own strength they will not be sustainable. That was why his robes of state were laid aside; that was why he approached the high altar alone; that was why he did so clad only in that simple white tunic. He knelt in humility to receive anointing, acknowledging that only in companionship with God and solidarity with God might the vocation that is his be fulfilled.
One human being, clad simply. One human being, kneeling. One human being, humble. One human being, kneeling before an audience of millions to receive the assurance of God’s presence with him.
Various hopes for our common life as a nation have been vested in him and in his Coronation. Hopes for a resurgence of pride; hopes for a healing of recent hurts; hopes for a restoration of unity. But, surely, the most profound hope lies not in the pageantry, not in the splendour, not in the gathering of the great and the good, not in the globally televised spectacle, but in this moment. In this moment of humility before God; in this moment of dependence upon God; in this moment when God’s companionship and God’s solidarity is made tangible in the outpouring of holy oil.
For this moment has the potential to deflate the dangerous self-assurance of the populist; to unseat the cruel arrogance of the despot, to undermine the blithe confidence of technocrat. This moment has the potential to recall us to what is most important – to the humanity we share; to our nakedness before God; and to God’s eternally-springing love and mercy for us.
Seventy years ago our parents and grandparents knew only what their neighbours’ black and white sets allowed them to know. We know so much more. Or we think we do. When all that God requires us to know is captured in this moment – in this moment of humility before one who is the way, and the truth, and the life. And in this moment we can all share; in this moment we are called to participate. God save King Charles; God bless us all.