In my suitcase returning from my three weeks in the Holy Land is a branch from a tree growing in the ruins of the city of Chorizim. Wrapped in toilet paper from the Convent of the Rosary Sisters in Nazareth to keep it safe during my travels, it is one of my prized souvenirs from that pilgrimage.
Chorizim was a city situated on the northern side of the Sea of Galilee. It is a city where Jesus performed miracles but he then cursed because those miracles did not change the hearts of the people (Luke 10. 12–14).
The city was stark that hot September day when my brother and I explored the ruins. The rocks used to build the city were black basalt, and most of the plants had dried to the beige and brown of late summer. Among the few green plants growing was a tree, zizyphus spina christi. An evergreen, it has edible fruits which taste much like dates. In fact, from other trees of the genus, the small red fruit is used to make the candy, jujubes.
This green tree in the midst of ruins had a not so good surprise. Small thorns covered the branches which one did not see until touching a branch and being pricked. In Chorizim, this genus of the buckthorn family is spina christi. Many think that it was the branches from this tree that were used to make the crown of thorns that Jesus wore to his death.
On this Holy Friday at our noonday service we will read the passion narrative from the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of John.
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe 3 and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.4 Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” 5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”6 As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
I am thoughtful about this crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head. It would have looked harmless as the soldiers brought it towards him and lifted it to his head. It was only when the crown was placed that the pain from it began.
As people, we are often somewhat prepared for the pain and suffering we experience in life. It is those unexpected hurts that blindsight us and that can cause ache to our very soul.
On that Friday in Jerusalem that is now called Good, Jesus knew that he was going to be betrayed, denied, abandoned, ridiculed, and crucified. For this pain he was as prepared as one could be, particularly by his vigil of prayer the night before in the Garden of Gethsamene.
But the pain of these tiny, nearly invisible thorns was unexpected.
On this Holy, this Good, Friday, may we be especially be aware of those small, often unplanned, hurts that we each cause. May we remember that as Jesus dies on the cross, his hands are open wide to receive and give absolution for all of those things we do that cause others pain. As we are forgiven, may we extend our hands only in love to all of those we meet.
O Christ, who by the thorns pressed upon your head has drawn the thorns from the sorrows of the world, and has given us a crown of joy and peace: Make us so bold to never fear suffering, nor to suffer without relying on your love and care, to the glory of your holy name. AMEN