Seamless

It’s a fascinating detail in St John’s account of the crucifixion that after Jesus had been stripped and nailed to the cross the soldiers on duty turned their attention to the robe he had been wearing. Over their heads a man was writhing in agony on the cross, but they were rolling the dice, casting the lots, trying to get possession of the robe. John tells us why

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. (John 19.23)

Most of his clothes, presumably ripped from his body, were divided between the four soldiers whose duty it was that day to crucify these criminals. It was a bit of a bonus for a rather gruesome task. But the tunic was different. It was seamless, it had been skillfully woven in one piece from the top throughout.

So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ (John 19.24)

This was no ordinary piece of clothing that Jesus wore; it had been skillfully made, it was desirable, perhaps a gift from one of the wealthier people who were on the fringe of the disciples, perhaps a gift of one of the women, perhaps from Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward. We can only speculate but this was not something that you would pick up on the normal market stall. Its seamless quality made it a prized and valuable possession.

Last week was something very few of us had ever experienced, but in some ways no one has ever experienced it was such a powerful collision of events. In just a couple of days one Prime Minister stood down as another was appointed, Her Majesty The Queen died and His Majesty The King acceded to the throne. Even as I type that it is staggering. But what is even more staggering is that it all happened seamlessly, with no challenging of power, no contested rights, no pretender in the wings, no doubt that what was happening should have been happening. The clocks didn’t stop, the trains ran, the tills kept ringing, prayers were offered and the Thames ebbed and flowed.

Watching, as we were all able to do for the first time, the proceedings of the Accession Council I was struck again by the calm nature of the transfer of power, the timeless language, the solemnity which was just right, but not stifling of humanity, and the role of the Christian faith in all of this, a rock on which the whole structure is built and stands.

The evening before I had been officiating at Choral Evensong. Even as Dean I still find myself being given the privilege of singing the Office. But this was the first Choral Evensong since the death of Her Late Majesty and so it was the first time that we had sung the Preces and Responses. As you may know, one of the things that the Church of England does is commit itself to praying daily for the Monarch and formally at Matins and Evensong. It is part of our daily life and especially in our cathedrals. So we had been so used to singing ‘O Lord, save the Queen.’ Now we sang

O Lord, save the King.
And mercifully hear us when we call upon thee.

We concluded the service with a single verse of the National Anthem, ‘God save our gracious King’. It was so strange, so hard to form the words, to replace the muscle memory, and I know I will stumble over it in the days and weeks ahead. So many of us have known nothing else but the Queen, and now she is gone, and Charles is on the throne and it was seamless.

The soldiers looked with envy at the robe. ‘Let us not tear it’. I suppose what I have realised is what a treasure we have in our unwritten Constitution. Bizarre, antique, gold-braided, controlled, like scenes from a D’Oyly Carte opera, Dickensian, reminiscent of so many engravings by Tenniel for ‘Alice’ Adventures in Wonderland’ – all that may be true, but it works and it works so well, and God blesses it and others must look on with no little awe and wonder where power and leadership are fought over and jealously guarded.

The Seamless Robe on the arms of the Kingdom of Georgia

Like the seamless robe taken from the shoulders of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the one who reigns from cross and altar we must value what we have and not tear it.

This is the prayer I wrote for the Cathedrals of England to use at this time.

Majestic God,
whose throne is in heaven,
whose footstool is the earth;
we thank you for your servant, Elizabeth,
your faithful servant,
our beloved Queen.
As we mourn her death
we give thanks for her life
of devoted service,
unfailing wisdom,
compassionate generosity,
and faithful dedication
and pray that we may embrace her values
and build your kingdom
today and always.
Amen.


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