“…and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on his head…” (RSV, Matthew 27:29)
A crown of thorns! Who would have thought on that Good Friday morning that the crown woven by a soldier as a piece of barrack room horseplay would express for ever after the true Kingship of God the Son! If they had placed upon his head a flashy imitation of the crown of an earthly king, how false it would have been!
For Our Lord had already spurned an earthly crown in principle when, in the wilderness after his Baptism, Satan offered him, “…all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them…” (RSV, Matthew 4:8). And he had rejected it in practice later in his ministry when the nationalistic Galileans were on the point of taking him by force and making him King (John 6:15).
His Kingdom, his reign was to be a willingly accepted sovereignty over the hearts and minds of countless men and women and children of every nation and every race, not only in this world but in the world to come for all eternity.
And the power and the permanence of that Kingdom was to be founded, not on the compulsion of human force, but on the greater compulsion of his Divine self-sacrificing love for all humankind – a love so powerful in its attraction that the nails and the Cross, so far from extinguishing it, served only to reveal and prove it with unique certainty. As he himself said, “…I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (NRSV, John 12:32).
So on Good Friday Jesus began his reign as King of Love, and the nature of both his Kingdom and his love was symbolised by the Crown of Thorns.
So when, after the scourging, the soldiers arrayed him in a trooper’s scarlet cloak, and plaited a crown of thorns and put it on his head and a reed to serve as a sceptre in his right hand and kneeling before him mocked him saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (NRSV, Matthew 27:29) – it was then that the Crown of ridicule became the Crown of glory.
On that Good Friday in the Roman barracks in Jerusalem, the Lord, as he sat there bleeding from the scourge and receiving the derisive homage of the troopers, was more truly King than when he lay in Mary’s arms in the house in Bethlehem and received the royal gifts at the hands of the Wise Men.
For now, as he entered on his sufferings, so he entered on his Kingdom, which thenceforth spread irresistibly from Jerusalem to the uttermost part of the earth. For now “…God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…” (RSV, Philippians 2:9,11, our emphasis), “…King of kings and Lord of lords” (RSV, Revelation 19:16).
And to that Kingdom we belong, together with the rest of the blessed company of all faithful people who own him as their King. Among our first duties as members of his Kingdom is that of personal and corporate loyalty to him. That loyalty is pledged Sunday by Sunday at the altar in the Eucharist. It is demonstrated both in the wider Church and in the world by contending “…for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (RSV, Jude 3) – delivered by the Lord to the Apostles.
That Faith, as we are well aware, is under attack today, partly from outside the Church but also from within it. And we have our role to play in seeing that the Faith is preserved and passed on intact to the next generation. It is a task which Christ’s faithful followers in every age have shouldered, always willingly and often heroically, and it is through their efforts that the Faith has come down to us today.
It so happens that in our time it is stormy weather for the Faith, but, as the Crown of Thorns reminds us, the followers of Christ cannot be fair weather friends. Indeed, conflict is built into the Christian life itself. So at our Baptism, when we were made members of his Kingdom, we were signed with the sign of the Cross as a token that we should not be ashamed to confess the Faith of Christ Crucified, but “Fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ…”. (1)
However, we do not fight for the Faith without the Divine assistance. As Holy Scripture says, “Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side” (Jerusalem Bible, Ecclesiasticus 4:28).
And here we come back to the Eucharist. For at the Eucharist not only do we re-pledge our loyalty to the Lord but in the Blessed Sacrament we receive the Lord himself into our innermost being in his Risen and Glorified Body, so that, when we go back to the world outside, we do so having him not only with us (“…I am with you always…”) but within us (he in us and we in him) (NRSV, Matthew 28:20) (John 14:20).
We could not be in better company.
“See from his head, his hands his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?” (2)
You may also like to ponder on the hymn To mock your reign, O dearest Lord
1. © The Archbishops' Council of the Church of England (2006) Common Worship: Christian Initiation, Baptism. Available from:
http://www.churchofengland.org/media/1190836/holy%20baptism.pdf (Accessed 25 February 2013) (Internet).
2. Watts, I. (1707) When I survey the wondrous Cross. Available from:
http://www.oremus.org/hymnal/w/w299.html (Accessed 26 February 2013) (Internet).