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Ceremony Matters

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We are now less than a week away from another presidential inauguration.  That’s a pretty big deal.  There have been quite a few of them in my life – a life that began with Dwight Eisenhower in the office – but not so many that they are commonplace.  Best as I can tell there are only four other countries that inaugurate presidents.  Most other democracies are parliamentary, and most of those descended from monarchies, so they still have coronations.  Big difference between a coronation and inauguration.

An inauguration marks the beginning of something, generally service in an office.  A coronation elevates someone into an office.  There is a big difference between serving in an office and being elevated to one.  As a nation we can have a hard time holding on to that distinction and some of the people that have been inaugurated as POTUS acted more as if they were crowned.  Nonetheless, the distinction between the two ceremonies is a large part of what makes America great and what makes America a Christian nation.

I have been researching and planning to write about this distinction all week.  No life better illustrates the difference between an inauguration and a coronation than the life of Jesus Christ.  I had planned to use Mark 10:45 as a text for this post.  But then in my inbox yesterday morning came one of my daily devotional emails and it contained a paragraph that made the point better than I ever could:

Jesus radically reimagined human leadership for us. Jesus put together two visions that seem incongruent, even paradoxical: God as king and God as suffering servant. From the beginning of the biblical narrative, God is seen as an all-powerful ruler, creator of all things visible and invisible. That much is intelligible to both ancient and modern minds. However, when Jesus appeared as God incarnate, there’s much more.   Not only did he demonstrate his divine power, but also Jesus deliberately embraced a wholly unexpected – and to many, incomprehensible – “lead servant” way of life.   As Jesus said of himself, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 NRSV)

God incarnate had a choice between a coronation and an inauguration.  He chose an inauguration, and an inglorious one at that.  Our nation is built with that choice in mind – we try to make the same one.  This choice has served us well to date.

My prayer this week as the presidential inauguration approaches, and a prayer that I hope you will join me in, is that all involved – which means the whole nation – remember that this is an inauguration, not a coronation.  That we act accordingly.  That we be mindful of the fact that service and humility are the hallmarks of the American head-of-state.  That we know whatever glory may fall on the office is for the sake of other nations that do not quite understand the distinctions that this nation is built upon.

Such really will make America great again.


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