It seems that an unexpected star of the coronation last weekend was the Lord President of the Council, Penny Mordaunt who spent the best part of two hours holding up various swords. She was a striking figure, always present in the corner of the television pictures. I was however also fascinated by the swords themselves and their associated symbolism. For me, the most intriguing was the Sword of Offering. This was blessed by the Archbishop who asked that it be a symbol of justice and mercy, not judgement and might. As he handed it to the King, he told him to do justice and stop evil, protect the church, defend the week and to punish wrong-doing. It was then placed back on the altar before Penny Mordaunt redeemed it by paying 100 shillings; she then carried it for the rest of the service. I do not fully understand all the symbolism but I suspect at its heart is a recognition that anyone in authority must make difficult decisions, often having to pick the lesser of several evils. The swords may reflect a pre-Christian practice in the coronation, but the Bible also reflects the tension between showing mercy and doing justice, loving enemies and protecting the week. Perhaps the payment of the redemption money to the altar has something to do with recognising that we are all fallen and need the mercy of God, the ultimate redeemer. The power a ruler exercises is only ever borrowed from God and they will need wisdom from God in doing that; humility and forgiveness when they get it wrong.
Of course, King Charles does not exercise political power, that belongs to politicians, like Penny Mordaunt. And when they sit in the House of Lords, the Bishops are also inevitably entering into politics, albeit trying to bring a spiritual perspective. And so this week, we saw the dilemma of the swords being acted out in the House of Lords; arguments on immigration, picking the least bad option, how to juggle truth and love. That needs wisdom on how to use the swords.