A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley by Andrew McKearney on 19th March 2023
There was an intriguing news item recently that was in the headlines for not more than about 24 hours. You’d be forgiven for not noticing it. It was the story about the chrism oil that’ll be used to anoint our king at his Coronation on 6 May. It had been consecrated in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
We learnt who’d consecrated the oil – the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem and the Orthodox Patriarch.
We learnt that the olives used to make the oil had come from two olive groves on the Mount of Olives, one of which our king has a personal family connection with, since his paternal grandmother lies buried there.
We learnt that from ancient kings through to the present day, monarchs have been anointed with oil from this sacred place, demonstrating, as the Archbishop of Canterbury said, ‘the deep and historic link between the coronation, the Bible, and the Holy Land’.
We also learnt that 8 different scents had been added to the oil – sesame, rose, jasmin, cinnamon, neroli, benzoin, amber and orange blossom.
And there this intriguing news story ended and we moved on to the more usual news headlines.
This brief story shows the way that monarchy comes from a different world to the everyday one we inhabit. The coronation regalia of the ring, the sceptre, the rod, the orb and the crown; the clothing, the oil and the rituals; all of these create a certain mystique with roots going way back.
We heard about some of those ancient roots from our first reading from the Book of Samuel.
The story of David being anointed king comes from the earliest days of monarchy for the people of Israel – about 3,000 years ago. Surrounding nations had a monarch and the people of Israel wanted a monarch too.
‘Give us a king to govern us, like other nations’ they pressed the prophet, Samuel. But Samuel was not pleased and nor was the Lord:
‘Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say
to you,’ the Lord replied to Samuel, ‘for they have
not rejected you, but they have rejected me from
being king over them.’
Samuel is then told to warn the people of ‘the ways of the king who shall reign over them’ – and he goes on to warn that people will be commandeered into the king’s army and into the king’s employment, lands will be grabbed and given to the powerful and punishing levels of taxation will be imposed:
‘And in that day you will cry out because of your
king….. but the Lord will not answer you in that
The first king of Israel was Saul who, as Samuel had feared, did not turn out well. So, the Lord instructs Samuel to anoint another person as king – an act of treason which endangers both Samuel’s life and the person whom Samuel anoints as king in Saul’s place. But who is that new king to be?
When interviews took place last time round to find a vicar for this parish, I was not one of the first group of six candidates selected for interview.
But after the first round of interviews the chair of the interviewing panel rang a second group of six candidates, including myself, saying that they’d interviewed six excellent candidates for being the next vicar of Iffley but none of them seemed right to them, so would we mind coming to be interviewed as a second group.
Just like Samuel, they were looking for the right person.
And finding the right person isn’t always easy. It’s a process of discernment in which we all have a part to play.
We’ve begun that process with the morning we spent together before Christmas taking stock and sharing possibilities.
Another Sunday morning is planned for 30 April to distil and refine the long list of options to a fewer key aspects of parish life that we believe God has laid on our hearts.
The hope is that that will become clearer, to take to the annual meeting in May. So please make that Sunday morning a priority, as well as the annual meeting.
Because also at our annual meeting elections will be held for the PCC, and those need to be taken equally seriously. Offer yourself to serve on the PCC, and if you feel that’s not right for you, ask someone else that you think might be right.
We all need to be as helpful as we can be during the vacancy, surrounding the whole process with our support and our prayers.
Because we’ve come a long way from Samuel acting unilaterally and just anointing David as king. Bishops or patrons no longer just make appointments to parishes. There’ll be choices to make, and we’re all invited to play our part as responsibly as possible, to ensure those choices are made well.
When it comes to vicars, there is choice. When it comes to monarchy, there’s no choice.
But whether chosen, appointed or inherited, it makes no difference to the importance of those entrusted with leadership setting the tone and leading by example – it may be a hospital ward, a classroom, a parish, or a nation.
And because of this the Church has always prayed for those in authority and the influence that they exercise.
2,000 years ago in the first century, Clement of Rome prayed:
‘Give those in authority Lord,
health, peace, concord and stability,
that they may exercise without offence
the rule you have entrusted to them.’
May that be so for our next vicar and our king.