In the week leading up to Easter we try to enter more deeply into what Jesus is doing as he walks the way to the cross. I offer these brief meditations in that spirit, each day using one of the objects that appears in the gospels.
3. CROWN OF THORNS
The soldiers, after twisting some thorns into a crown, put it on his head (Matthew 27:29)
I remember being on holiday in Greece with a priest friend. He insisted that we visit a church supplies shop. There his eye fell on a crown of thorns, presumably used during Orthodox Good Friday liturgy, or something similar. This crown was a woven circle of long, fierce spikes from some tree or shrub. He insisted on buying it. To take it back to the UK he put bubble wrap round it (it filled his carry-on case) and despite being careful, stabbed himself several times in the process.
A crown of thorns like that was rammed on Jesus's head. Paintings of the Man of Sorrows often show trickles of blood down his forehead from the crown. This was a preliminary piercing that foreshadowed the cross. Now, think about it for a moment: to make a crown of thorns cannot be easy. It requires strength to bend those branches, and, as you weave the thorns in a circle, they will be pricking you. Who, you might imagine, would think of such a thing in the first place, let alone be determined enough to do it? I think we can surmise that what was at work here was the energy that comes from delight in doing harm.
Evil takes many forms, from low-level nastiness to deeds so awful that they seem suck the oxygen out of the air as we hear about them on the news. Whoever planned and carried out that crown of thorns was motivated by this strange inner desire to hurt. Here is one story to illustrate the point. On the night of 22nd March someone entered an ambulance station in Thanet, Kent, and used a drill to puncture the tyres of six ambulances. And this, of course, just as the coronavirus epidemic was starting to hit. Vicious, yes, but also pointless, as evil often is.
The crown of thorns is part of the humiliation of Jesus. It hoots at the idea that he is a king, and ignores his words 'My kingdom is not of this world.' Mockery, denial, ignorance. Part of a process aimed at obliterating his humanity. Evil is often like this. It belongs to a chaos, a meaninglessness that sometimes seems to stalk the world looking for victims. It frightens us even to think about it, and we would prefer, in fact, not to think about it. It offends our sense of justice. Most of the time we encounter goodness in people. Even when we encounter the opposite, it is more often a pettiness or a thoughtlessness than an actual evil. And yet, this element of is there in the world. We need to acknowledge its reality.
The mock regalia of kingship planted on Jesus is intended to humiliate. A desire to humiliate others is something dark and sinister. This particular humiliation will culminate when he is lifted up on the cross, exposed for the world to see. Yet in these moments we see Jesus meeting the senselessness of our world, that element of chaos and darkness that we prefer not to think about until it is forced on our consciousness. Even the coronavirus pandemic has elements of this, which is part of its ability to create fear. This pandemic seems so irrational, so ruthless in is impersonal energy. Hence although it is a product of nature and not of human beings, we think of this too as part of evil. Even in this case, though, human carelessness seems to have played a part in its spread from animals to humans.
Jesus in the courtyard, being taunted by the soldiers is vulnerable to this strange human weakness for meaningless gestures of hatred, contempt, ill-will. He is hit full-on by the irrational evil that is part of our world. Jesus on the cross is held before our eyes, victim to this destructive force like so many before him and so many after him. It tells us that God in Christ identifies with us fully. What hurts us hurts the Saviour. He will be one with us even in our pain and desolation, as we wonder why the world can be so unfair sometimes. God shares with us the human condition. And because it did not defeat God, in the fullness of time it will not defeat us.
Saviour Jesus Christ,
from crib to cross
you were exposed to the vagaries of life,
to its chances and misunderstandings.
You met hands that helped you
and hands that sought to harm you,
tongues that blessed you
and tongues that cursed you.
Protect us from chaos within and without,
but in all things draw us closer to you
in the true Kingdom of God.
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