To miss one Royal wedding may be regarded as misfortune. To miss two looks like carelessness. (with apologies to Oscar Wilde)
I missed the wedding of Charles and Di back in 1981. Not that I was invited of course, but as a fourteen year old lad living in sectarian Northern Ireland, refusing to watch that event meant you were either a Catholic, or had gone fishing.
We had gone fishing. Dad, David and me. We sat grimly, unsuccessfully, by the coffee coloured water, the July sun hidden behind ubiquitous tweed-grey Ulster cloud. Dozens of other Catholics and/or fishermen dotting the banks up and down the Bann river, coaxing the lazy bream who fed on the bottom on to their dangling lines.
I missed the most recent wedding too, the next generation one, in which a son who lost his mother all too soon wed a woman whose dad refused to turn up on the day. I missed it because I was in Canberra for a conference and a dinner to celebrate a great man’s legacy. The speeches there would have rivalled anything in London.
Back in 1981 I saw snippets of the archaic Anglican Archbishop Robert Runcie’s sermon, all lisps, pomp and cross-less Christianity. I missed the more up-to-date sermon by the more up-to-date Michael Curry. The jury seems conflicted about this one, though I hear that despite his great oratory he maintained Runcie’s cross-less conviction.
The first flush of love does not need a cruciform sermon to guide it – not on the surface at least. But as that first wedding showed – or at least the toxic marriage that followed it showed – a death to self in light of the one who died to show his love for the Bride would have been more than helpful.
Of course many a hopeful apologist has been constructing a level of deep theological meaning from the sermon that it did not have. While many a grumpy social-media-theologian has been lambasting it. But it was a sermon for our social media times, or one that reflected the hesitant Christian response to our social media times; a Christianity-lite that we’d never serve up to our children without blushing.
Harry and Megan should have a chat with the Queen when things settle down and they’re opening that new spice rack they got from whats-his-face. The Queen, we are informed, holds a more robust soteriology than Bishop Curry. They’re going to need it if sin is as sin is, and marriage is as marriage is.
A tale of two Royal weddings. A tale, rather, of the ensuing thirty seven years, and the massive cultural upheaval that has gone on in between. A time in which the UK and much of the West has shaken off the mantle of Christian culture and taken on a decidedly more secular frame.
A time in which we are left with what we might call the “Amusement Park England” – a Disney-fied version in which facades and caricatures are rolled out like red carpet in order to assure us all that nothing has changed. Except of course the price of admission.
Not that it’s all bad, of course. There’s a bunch more honesty in those thirty seven years. There’s had to be. The illusion has been shattered. Back then Charles was allowed to have sown his wild oats on tours around the world, while Di was supposed to have been young and virginal – a new Mary for an age of new secular believers (and how she filled that role!).
It was all a lie of course. But we happily believed it, or at least those of us who hadn’t gone fishing did.
And what do we have now? A bride who has been married before, who – if social media is telling the truth, and hey, why would it not be? – split up with her ex-husband by text message.
Mrs Wallis Simpson would be spinning in her grave. She could have been Queen if she and the abdicating “David” had been married a couple of generations later, rather than the outcast she – and he – became. Mind you, there was that Hitler thing too.
If you’ve watched the series The Crown (and if not, why not), you’ll know that by season 2 the mood in England has changed. It’s Boomer Land, the age of progress and optimism. The Royal Family has to change, has to come out from under the old illusion, break the spell and get with the times.
Which of course, in the 80s and 90s, it did. There’s nothing more spell-breaking than royalty appearing on TV games shows and looking like idiots. What happened to good old jousting?
Yes, there’s nothing more spell-breaking, more designed to bring you back to the pack, than appearing on TV, where the leggy blonde host looms larger than any royal with an over-bite could ever hope to.
Nothing says “facade” more than celebrating celebrities for just being celebrities. Come to think of it, perhaps nothing much had changed at all.
So the new magic moved to the screen, to infotainment, and finally to social media. And now, here in the darker more dangerous new century (one that feels its age already), the social media spell is also breaking. We’re seeing the optimism of the Boomers back in the 60s break apart in the light of reality.
So in quiet desperation, or ever-green optimism, we head back to transcendence again – or at least a parody of it. An echo of the past that provides an anchoring and a depth of meaning that has all but vanished in modern Britain, and indeed modern Australia and the West in general.
Despite the utopian promise of connectivity with other people, what we want is a liturgy that connects us with other times.
So it was a wedding that looks as grand spanking Royal as Charles and Di’s ever did. But a wedding that still needs a cross at the centre – under the surface of it – like theirs needed, but sadly failed to contain. Not just the love of Jesus as he lived, but the love of Jesus as he died.
I don’t think it was Michael Curry’s role to fill in all of the blanks. I’ve preached enough wedding sermons to know it’s not easy task, and can only imagine the pressure he was under.
But there are a lot of blanks in our culture that an event like that could fill in. And he didn’t need to be angular to fill them in, unless of course the cross is now the only love left that dare not speak its name.
One wonders what the next big Royal Wedding looks like in forty years time. Two kings, or dare I say, two queens, sitting on the throne. If so, Wallis Simpson would be laughing in her grave.