A Natural Celebration

An extra Reflection for the Coronation based on Psalm 122

The last coronation of a British monarch took place seventy years ago and most us will not remember that wonderful occasion when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in Westminster Abbey. Now, we look forward to the coronation of King Charles III and his wife Camilla. Whilst it has undergone several changes through the years, St Dunstan drew up the original liturgy, for the coronation of King Edgar in 973AD. (St Dunstan’s Church contains a stained glass window of Dunstan which includes a picture of that coronation.)

Psalm 122 was first sung at the coronation of Charles I and Sir Hubert Parry’s setting has been used since the coronation of Edward VII in 1902, sung at the entrance of the monarch into Westminster Abbey. The title in one of my commentaries for Psalm 122 is “Joy on Arrival.” Parry’s beautiful setting, reflects the solemnity and grandeur of the occasion, with it’s opening words, “I was glad!” The composer added the words, “Vivat Rex!” and “Vivat Regina!” [Long live the King/Queen] making the psalm even more appropriate for this solemn act of worship which combines the hopes of the nation.

Of course the psalm dates back many years before any coronation of a British monarch. It was written to recall the joy of being invited to join a pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem. As verse 1 says, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’.” Such pilgrimages were thwart with danger for those who travelled alone. So being invited to share the journey with others was especially important. Imagine the joy, what we might call the ‘wow factor,’ behind verse 2. The pilgrims have arrived at their destination, ready to join the crowd as they worship in the Temple! “And now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.” If you watched the recent BBC2 television series, “Pilgrimage,” you will recall the sheer joy and awe on the faces of those who arrive at Fatima, having walked together for 15 days, sharing stories about their faith, or their searching for one. Such a programme gives a clue to the emotions lying behind Psalm 122.

From verse 6, the mood changes: from celebrating the end of the pilgrimage to a call to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” This change in mood is reflected in the change of music and tempo. And perhaps it is in this and the following verses which is why Psalm 122 is so fitting for this great occasion. For Jerusalem was, for the author of the psalm, the place where impartial justice was assumed to be given and this justice, along with truth and mercy its companions, were – and still are – essential for the welfare of a nation. They are needed to help its citizens to live together in harmony, though we know from experience that this isn’t always the case even in a country like ours. Justice, truth and mercy are also what God requires of us and for many years the monarch was considered to be the one whose role included the administration of these things. Hence, perhaps, the phrase “thrones of justice” and where that exists there can be peace, the peace which verses 7 and 8 of the psalm speak of: “‘Peace be within your walls and tranquillity within your palaces.’ For my kindred and companions’ sake, I will pray that peace be with you.”

The pilgrim, who began his journey alone until he was joined by others, has arrived and in the last verse he continues his prayer for those who joined him and for all the pilgrims and residents of the city. “For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do your good.” Being with others has helped him to see that he shares responsibility for peace.

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