By LORRAINE V. MURRAY | Published February 28, 2013
It sits in a clay plot near our bedroom window, and it blooms in early spring. The flowers are small and red, and innocent looking, and they linger throughout Lent.
But make no mistake: This plant is dangerous! You see, the long thorns sprouting on its woody stalks are razor sharp.
It is called the Crown of Thorns plant—or the Christ plant—because some historians believe its branches were woven into the crown Christ wore. Accidentally brushing against a thorn brings about a shock of terrible pain—and it’s distressing to imagine what multiple thorns embedded in one’s flesh would feel like.
The crown of thorns is a riveting reminder of Christ’s physical suffering but also his emotional anguish.
The emotional pain started in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he agonized about what he would endure the following day. To make matters worse, his friends fell asleep, leaving him to face this horrible prospect alone.
Earlier, when Christ predicted his future suffering and death, he alluded to mental anguish. He specifically mentioned that he would be mocked, spit upon and insulted. And after his arrest, the crown of thorns played a huge part in that process.
The soldiers didn’t just want to kill him; they wanted to humiliate him. And so they fashioned a fake, hideous crown for him and hit him and spat at him, as they laughingly called him a king.
When he was walking to Calvary, some of his physical suffering came from those viciously sharp thorns piercing his torn and bleeding scalp. But there were also the shouts and laughter of the crowds to add to his torment.
For me, the crown evokes the mental agony that many people endure, which is not visible to us, but real nonetheless.
In her book “The Rocking Horse Catholic,” British mystic Caryll Houselander describes a childhood scene at a convent school, involving a nun who was known to be quite lonely.
One day Houselander, then a little girl, peeked into a room and saw the nun—a tall gaunt woman—all alone, polishing the children’s shoes. The child went in to help her and discovered that the woman had tears running down her cheeks and onto the shoes.
The girl, embarrassed, didn’t know what to say, so she just stared at the woman’s hands. Then, a moment later, she looked up at the sister and saw “That bowed head was weighed under the crown of thorns.”
This startling vision taught Houselander to look for Jesus in other suffering people. It is a compelling reminder for us to ask: Who wears the crown of thorns in our lives?
Maybe it is a middle-aged woman, recently widowed, trying desperately to present a cheerful face to the world—and hiding the fact that her heart is shattered. For her, the crown of thorns is made of grief.
Maybe it is a young married woman who desperately longs for a child but instead is enduring a series of miscarriages. For her, the crown is made of disappointment.
Maybe it is a man whose wife has walked away from the marriage. For him, the crown is woven from loneliness.
Lent calls us to see with new eyes. Who is being mocked? Who is lonely? Who is abandoned? Who is misunderstood? Who weeps in a closed room when no one is around? And how can we help them?
We are called to walk with Christ on his journey from that fearful night in the Garden to his hours on the cross. He endured not only the brutal blows, the terrible thorns and the nails, but also the sorrow of being misunderstood, insulted and abandoned. And all because of his love for us.
The spikes on the Crown of Thorns plant remain sharp and dangerous all year long. The flowers in the spring last only a little while.
But the blooms remind us that even in the cruelest circumstances, and even amidst the sharpest pain, beauty and hope can thrive—and love can survive.