Between the NBA playoffs and youth soccer games this weekend, I caught a glimpse of the coronation of the new king and queen of England — and found it a little mesmerizing.

For much of the western world, the whole spectacle was easy to deride as anachronistic, absurd and ancient — precisely the biting take of British journalist Helen Lewis in The Atlantic, who opined, “Where does Britain keep all these horses and bishops the rest of the time?”

But when I gathered my boys to show them the moment when Charles III received the crown on his head, they stopped everything they were doing and sat more still than if a Pixar classic had been up on the screen.

Robes. Anointings. Prayers. Commitments. And crowns.

I suppose you can’t blame the peanut gallery for throwing peanuts when they have little to compare it to. Not so for the 10 million or so Americans who watched — and the people of faith who relish sacred ritual, including Latter-day Saints.

Messages behind the symbols

One 20-something Latter-day Saint college student recently explored the intricacies of the coronation ceremony as part of a class. Not long after, she remarked on how much that study added to her own experience of sacred ritual in her faith.  

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints definitely have an appreciation of sacred ceremony and ritual much like other faiths. I once attended a service with my Greek Orthodox mentor in college, who spoke of the ritualistic elements as something she most loved about her faith and one reason she continues to participate.

These more external elements of ritual, of course, are always symbolic of something else. King Charles III, for example, received a ring symbolic of “kingly dignity” and a “sign of the covenant sworn this day between God and king, king and people.”

And historian Romita Ray notes that his wearing the same robes as past kings is “almost like channeling their heritage, their legacy, their bodies” to his experience today. She also highlights the way a crown “extends your head” so that the wearer becomes powerful “in a way in which ordinary human beings don’t.”

In all religious ceremonies, much like classic literature, there are likewise layers of meaning and messages they reflect. Not all of these elements are appropriate to speak about or witness — including at the coronation itself. The anointing of the king this weekend — with holy oil placed on his head, chest and hand — was likewise private and screened from public viewing by lovely tree-embossed panels prepared for the moment.

Of course, the crowning moment of the ceremony was the crowning itself — of both the king and queen, who were dressed in royal robes fitting the occasion. Watching Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby gently lay the weighty crown on Charles and Camilla’s heads was touching, even for those of us destined to never feel the weight of such an earthly crown. 

This vast discrepancy between the plebeian and royal no doubt contributes to the scorn so many piled upon the whole event. That which is strange and foreign to us becomes easy to mock.

And that which feels wholly unlike us is easy to deride and hold in suspicion. 

Royalty in all of us

In the pinnacle of what many of us consider the greatest musical of all time, the commoners in “Les Miserables” close the first act of the play singing “Every man will be a king” in a song aspiring for a better future.

In this, the Victor Hugo-adapted play hearkens to the biblical tradition in the Book of Revelations where God’s people can become, in John’s words, “kings and priests unto God.”

Back in 1934, U.S. Sen. Huey Long of Louisiana likewise gave the “Every Man a King” address over the NBC radio network, as part of his lifelong effort to improve a more equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth. In that speech, Long imagined a time with “every man a king, so there would be no such thing as a man or woman who did not have the necessities of life, who would not be dependent upon the whims and caprices … of the (powerful) for a living.”

That kind of dependance, it’s safe to say, is what most of the human family has known throughout history — whether under a king, queen or some other ruler. And it was precisely a desire for independence from all that which fueled early revolutionaries in America to a bloody break from the British monarch.

As Farley Anderson, an expert in early colonial history, told me, “The whole idea of the revolution was to transfer the authority of kings to the people” — highlighting the common unofficial battle cry of the war: “no king, but King Jesus.” 

The idea of paying obeisance to an all-powerful earthly king had lost its hold over these American minds — with their hearts yearning for something more.

Modern societies are experiencing another kind of populist revolt these days, although not always guided by the higher principles motivating America’s founders. Instead, today’s rebellions often seem opposed to any human authority outside of oneself — be that king or queen, president or magistrate, courts or cops, teachers or priests.

Or even parents.

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One of the saddest parts of Saturday’s ceremony was seeing Charles’ son Harry a few rows back — without his wife and apparently without any interaction with his brother and father. 

By contrast, his elder brother, Prince William, pledged allegiance to his new father-king —  kissing him on the cheek and exchanging tender words. 

Whatever righteous indignation fueled Harry’s throw-everyone-under-the-bus Oprah and Netflix tell-all, it’s clear he has given up much. As do all who turn away so decisively from tradition, family and faith.

By many measures, this is exactly what so many are choosing today. Given that, it was refreshing to witness a modern instantiation of tradition still acknowledging the divine. And even more so, to see so many, including Savannah Guthrie of NBC News, demonstrate such respect for the same.  

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People of faith around the world appreciate the ways in which the reverence and order of sacred rituals provide a counterbalance to the chaotic disorder and cacophonous rhythms of modern life. 

After offering encouragement to help his people in different ways, the archbishop told the new king: “that doing these things, you may be glorious in all virtue and so faithfully serve our Lord Jesus Christ in this, that you may reign forever with him in the life which is to come.”

However Christians might agree or disagree with specific elements of the service, or the expenses of the celebration, they are united in the conviction of Christ as the true and future king to come.  

Jacob Hess is the former editor of Public Square Magazine and writes at Publish Peace on Substack. He has worked to promote liberal-conservative understanding since the publication of “You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought (But You’re Still Wrong)” with Phil Neisser. With Carrie Skarda, Kyle Anderson and Ty Mansfield, he also authored “The Power of Stillness: Mindful Living for Latter-day Saints.”

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