They put a purple robe on Jesus, made a crown out of thorny branches, and put it on his head. Then they began to salute him: ‘Long live the King of the Jews!’ They beat him over the head with a stick, spat on him, fell on their knees, and bowed down to him. [GNB Mark 15.17-19]
In the Anglo-Saxon poem The Dream of the Rood, the poet has a vision of a glorious and bejewelled cross, presumably on the altar of a wealthy church. As the dream goes on, he sees through the gold and jewels to the blood-stained wood beneath, whereupon the cross itself begins to tell its own story.
It is much the same with the account of Jesus’ scourging. How is it that we have turned instruments of torture into works of art? A brief search of internet images will bring up elegant, neatly-woven and sometimes flowering crowns of thorn, so far from the reality of the passion of Christ as to be almost meaningless.
This is not to despise the place of art in the Christian tradition: the early church did not use art for its own sake but as a means to an end, as a window into heaven, a doorway to worship. As we spend at least part of this day today remembering and giving thanks for Jesus’ sacrificial death for us – it is after all Good Friday – it will be important for us to recall the cost of what Christ did. And as human beings, we understand best of all the cost of physical pain.
Consider for a moment your reaction to pain, however small that experience may have been. It’s likely to have been a reaction of anger and frustration, a sense of being cut off from the world and disabled from really living and being productive. Now consider Jesus’ reaction, exactly the same in human terms, coupled with a deep sense of abandonment by his heavenly Father.
And here, even as he was scourged and whipped and brutally scratched with thorns, he had to face the third and profoundest reality of all: that he was being cut off from the land of the living in order for his brothers and sisters, so scarred by sin, to find a life-giving, hopeful and eternal way of living in that land. ‘Father, I will pour myself out for them.’ It’s entirely beyond comprehension. But as I wish you a blessed and holy Good Friday, my prayer is that you will be filled with joy that the one who alone could do this for you did it. Because he died, we live.
Lord Jesus, you faced the torment of barbaric punishment and mocking tongue:
be with those who cry out in physical agony and emotional distress.
You endured unbearable abuse:
be with those who face torture and mockery in our world today.
To you, Jesus, the King crowned with thorns,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.