The Christian religion celebrates a King. Even if all the realms of the earth abolished their mortal monarchies, Christians the world over would have to worship Christ and reverence him as their divine King. It’s entirely fitting, then, for earthly art and ceremony to adorn the heart’s heavenly adoration, most of all to express a deep reverence.
The Rev. Jonathan Mitchican points out a certain weirdness about monarchs today being seen most often in business suits and the like, and I agree. I think there is an excessive effort to make kings and queens look like other people in spite of their quite different office, and there’s something good that society’s lost in this change. A monarch has symbolic duties borne by no one else, to represent and to exercise on behalf of the people the authority conferred by God for the good governance of the earth. Coronation robes in a monarchy serve a greater purpose than simply to promote a gay feeling of pageantry: they signify that the ruler is called and set apart from all others in the land to serve the common good by ruling wisely and justly. In connexion with this special calling, the concept of majesty is very important.
There was a time in China when the emperor’s name was regarded as sacred to heaven. To give false report in his name was blasphemy, and the taboo on his name often forced others to change their own names in order to leave a wide berth around the sacred name of the emperor. This is because the emperor, as seen by the people, was the unique Son of Heaven, the Only-Begotten (if you will) priestly mediator between heaven and earth. There was, therefore, only one Son of Heaven at a time, divinely chosen as lord of all the earth.
Christians know that the Son of Heaven in the most direct sense is Jesus Christ. This Christ is forever the one ruler of all the earth, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. All the reverence due to the Son of Heaven, all the reverence paid to the emperor in China, belongs to him. The Bible encourages us to say the holy Name of Jesus, but it behoves us to see through the dark glass of natural revelation the awe that’s due to that Name, the ineffable majesty that it expresses. For we see that the Name of Jesus was the Name of the Incarnation of God. Even St Paul, once caught up to the third heaven, was far more sparing in his use of the name Jesus than a great many Christians now: even he, like those who call a mortal king His Majesty, many times said no more than Christ. Unlike the authors of some texts, he didn’t litter his writings meretriciously with the Name of the King.
Anyone who follows the prescription of the Church of England’s 1604 canons – ‘when in time of Divine Service the Lord Jesus shall be mentioned, due and lowly reverence shall be done by all persons present, as it hath been accustomed’ – will feel how strange it is to make a simple bow at every mention of Jesus during a hymn that uses the Name as many times as it uses the word the. If the holy Name comes up many times in succession, do I keep bobbing up and down, or do I stay down? Nor is it an unreasonable practice at all to bow at the Name of Jesus even outside of Divine Service. The fault, then, probably lies rather with the overuse of Christ’s Name than with the lowly reverence made at its mention.
Yes, we are free in Jesus Christ, no longer slaves. Yes, our devotion must be marked by love, for God is love. Yes, he loves us and humbly gave his life to save us from the righteous indignation of heaven. But the humble King is for that very reason to be given the greatest reverence, because the righteous died for the unrighteous. ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’