As Englishmen and people around the world, particularly Anglicans, watched the coronation of King Charles III recently, it prompted my mind to the thought of vocation in the Anglican way and the Christian life in general.
Historically, there was a multi-layered understanding of vocation beneath the remarkable rite or coronation that we saw unfold to such powerful effect. Despite the many truncations, the English coronation is still one of the most complex liturgies of the Western Church.
The implicit sense of calling and vocation was clearly central to certain key moments, such as the anointing, which has always meant an enormous amount to the Sovereigns thus anointed.
We are all familiar with the call of Abraham, as well as the call of the people of Israel. We are also fairly familiar with the special call of the apostles or disciples by Christ, and beyond that the wider call to all Christians, in the sense that we together comprise the assembly of the called, described as such by St Paul.
But then again, there is a more universal sense in which we all as human beings have a calling, which is to be a particular individual human being. That is why everyone actually has a vocation—not just religious folk.
We can see ourselves as people of God in the widest sense (which can be deeply meaningful across even the very real differences that divide the so-called “Peoples of the Book”) and therefore see a vocational structure to our very existence, something which allows us to see something profound about the human condition.
Yet we as Christians go beyond this basic if very deep claim (which we can share with Jew and Muslims). For us, what first emerged in the call of Abraham and the people of Israel comes to its fullness and fruition in Jesus Christ.
Theological reflection allows us, further, to see in the Church, which is the people of God, and more particularly the followers of Christ through time imbued with the life-giving Holy Spirit, the concrete expression of God the Father’s call to us all to realise our humanity in relation to God. This is something we understand ourselves as uniquely able to do as Christians through His Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. This is a central part of the specificity of what it means to be Christian—which also makes us quite distinct from other faith traditions and those who have none.
Looked at in another way, the Church can be seen as having a sacramental character as the sign of God’s activity within this world—calling us to Himself.
All this has very large implications. On the one hand, it does point to something that we can only come fully to understand and enjoy in the life of the world to come—which is to say, in the eschaton.
But on the other hand, there is a present aspect coming to realization here and now, for it implies too that we are called within the present structures of human existence to be part of a particular group within and through which the unique call of Christ comes to expression in this world.
To put this another way, as Christians we are summoned specifically by the word of God and are also marked out and enabled through the the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist to be part of the manifestation of God whereby the wider world—to which we witness—can be brought through understanding something of the God who created it to a more adequate understanding of itself and the telos or end to which we are all as God’s creatures called.
As we look back at the Coronation and the key moment of announcing, we are bound to think too of the music that accompanied that act—namely, the anthem by Handel “Zadok the Priest” setting words from 1 Kings 1:38-40. The words tell of the anointing of Solomon. And like the priest Zadok, the Archbishop of Canterbury anointed the new King before he was crowned, symbolizing God’s calling of him as King to his role in the British State, Canada, Australia, and all in the British Commonwealth of nations as Sovereign (as well as Supreme Governor in the case of the Church of England).
Thus do we all see in the act of anointing the setting apart of the King for his special purpose and vocation.
This is also why, once anointed of God, British monarchs—the late Queen Elizabeth being a good example—see themselves as being in an estate defined by God to which they are bound in a lifelong commitment, from which it would be wrong to step down. It is for God ultimately to determine when they leave this sacred office of Sovereign.