Of all the graphic images of the pain and indignities that Jesus suffered on his way to and upon the cross, for some reason it’s the crown of thorns that gets me every time.
(Yes, there is a tie-in to spiritual care for elders, so stay with me.)
Why does the crown of thorns bother me so much, I wonder? Surely other things were more physically painful—the flogging, the nails, the suffocation. There’s plenty of horror to contemplate.
But the crown of thorns … I can’t stand it. I picture the soldiers weaving it—did they wear gloves so their own hands wouldn’t be bloodied? Who had the arrogance and gall to press it onto Jesus’ head—or was that person goaded into it? Were they actually amused to see it pierce Jesus’ scalp and forehead?
It’s such a mockery, among many other mockeries hurled at Jesus during those final hours and days.
Maybe it gets me because I think, of all the things Jesus rightly deserved on this earth, as human friend to the outcast, as wise teacher of thousands, as the Son of God with us … he deserved honor and glory. And the crown of thorns mocks those rightful tributes to a nauseating degree.
A crown, a symbol of honor to one who deserves it, a physical representation of beauty and preciousness, became instead an instrument of mockery and torture.
Today’s Good Friday Service
Today I had the honor of leading a Good Friday service for the first time for a group of elders with dementia. I wasn’t sure how it would go; after all, so much of what I do with elders centers on lightening their moods, getting them to laugh, bringing light into their confusion and frustration.
But it was a beautiful time. They stayed with me through the entire reading of the story in Matthew 26-27—Jesus’ trial, Peter’s denial, the crowds yelling for his death, Pilate’s judgment, his torture and mocking at the hands of the soldiers and those watching, and the moment where he cries out and releases his spirit to the Father.
And when we talked about Jesus’ words from the cross, I got the loudest response I think I’ve ever gotten from the group. As we recounted the story, I started with “Father, forgive them…”,
And everyone loudly responded together: “FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO.”
They knew, deep in their collective memory, these history-shattering words: Jesus forgiving them, and us, as he died. A king, dispensing gentle grace while wearing a crown of thorns.
Somehow, these elders get it too. People with Alzheimer’s and dementia don’t get much honor these days; they’re often forgotten, overlooked, patted on the head, suffering through the loss of basic abilities and dignities.
I wonder if each indignity tears away a little of the honor they’ve earned over a lifetime of working to provide for a family, raising kids, serving our country in the military, cooking, cleaning, toiling, sacrificing. I wonder if it feels like thorns.
But they still love. When we treat them with less than honor, perhaps they know that we know not what we do. These kings and queens in God’s eyes receive and dispense grace while wearing their own crown of thorns. And they forgive.
Peace be with you during this holy weekend,