When thorns become a crown
Line after line of traumatised refugees, leaving behind their homes, livelihoods, their young men and throwing themselves on the mercy (mostly) of their western neighbours. As I write this, they are bleeding out of Ukraine in vast numbers. Nothing on this scale has been seen in Europe in my lifetime. Millions are desperately fleeing all that is precious and familiar to them as they frantically seek safety, and they are doing so in the depths of winter. At the same time, their men are expected to stay and fight. Emotional goodbyes on railway platforms seem like the set of a WW2 movie. But these are very real partings, and we know there will be tragically fewer reunions.
As I write this, parts of Ukraine are being laid waste. Centres of once-vibrant cites are either eerily quiet, the streets emptied of people and traffic, a tense stillness before the onslaught, or worse, the stillness has passed and they have been bombed to rubble by relentless and indiscriminate Russian shelling. The Russian army is doing in Ukraine what it did in Syria, and Chechnya and Georgia – encircle cities and ruthlessly destroy them. The human suffering amidst this violence is excruciating.
We are deeply shocked, and rightly so, by what we see unfolded and described by courageous camera-operators and journalists. Yet we must concede that such suffering is experienced all over the world, from the Rohingya settlements in Myanmar to the cities and villages of Yemen, or the ongoing wars in Ethiopia and South Sudan. And elsewhere. All the time. War is an endlessly sickening reality of human life in our world.
Where is God in it all?
At Easter time we are reminded afresh that God is not immune from this suffering. Where is God in the midst of a suffering world? He is exactly there – in the midst. He does not stand aloof and insulated from the agony of Ukraine. Jesus came and earthed himself in our flesh. He took our humanity to himself for ever. He takes our suffering to himself, bearing all of our sorrows and griefs (Isaiah 53:4). He takes our sins to himself, the iniquity that lies behind war and ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ is laid on Jesus at the cross (Isaiah 53:6). More than all of that, he takes our curse onto himself, surrendering himself to be lifted up on a cursed tree to bear the reproach we all deserve (Galatians 3:13)
When the question is angrily asked ‘Where is God amidst all this suffering?’, the answer is that he has taken it all to himself. God is not some false pagan deity who is detached and shielded from it all. He takes it all to himself in Jesus. He then puts it to death in his own body. He plunges into the horror we have created and takes on the darkness in person.
All of this is represented and symbolised in an aspect of the Easter events which we tend to bypass, through familiarity – the crown of thorns. In the Bible, thorns are emblematic of curse. As soon as Adam sinned, the ground was cursed with thorns (Genesis 3:18). God’s people at their best are pictured as a fruitful vine, but at their worst, rejecting God and embracing violence and injustice they are like briers and thorns (Isaiah 5)
When Jesus taught the parable of the farmer who sowed seed in various soils, representing how the Word of God was received, thorns are depicted as choking the Word (Matthew 13:22). When the Apostle Paul referred to some intense pain or affliction he was forced to endure, he referred to it as a ‘thorn in the flesh’ (2 Corinthians 12:7)
Thorns are anti-life. Thorns are a blight on creation. Thorns are anti-Gospel.
So when Jesus was mocked by the soldiers, as they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, pushed a staff in his hand and twisted thorns together to form a crown, they did infinitely more than they realised. They were mocking the notion that this poor peasant could be a king. But, in fact, this was the King of the entire universe, and the crown of thorns made clear that his reign would not ignore the thorns of life, but embrace them in determined, redemptive purpose.
We have a Saviour who turns thorns into crowns because as he embraces the darkness of the cross, and takes to himself the primeval curse that poured forth in all the evil of a broken world, he then pushes through the cross to resurrection blessing. The curses are not forgotten. Curses become crowns.
The pain and suffering and sin around us is never forgotten or discarded, but is taken up by Jesus. Look to the cross and be assured that whatever thorns afflict your life, Jesus can be trusted to turn them into crowns.
The following services will take place during Holy Week:
Wednesday: Taize, 7:30pm @ St. Peter’s Episcopal
Maundy Thursday, Lord’s Supper, 7:30pm @ St. Margaret’s
Good Friday, Service, 2pm @ Trinity,
Easter Sunday, Outdoor Service, 8:30am @ Dalry Cross followed by refreshments in St. Margaret’s Hall.
The weekly Midweek service will take place on Tuesday evening during this week to avoid a clash. Note that this year the Good Friday service is an afternoon service and on Easter Sunday an additional early outdoor service is planned.
A draft Presbytery Plan has been published inviting comments from Kirk Sessions. It envisages one church in Dalry served by one minister. The same is planned for Kilbirnie and Beith and it is hoped there will be cooperation between these churches in what is called a Parish grouping.
Church buildings have been audited and it is expected that a recommendation regarding buildings will be made at the May Presbytery.