By Emily Huff —
“Whether we feel ready or not, this day (Ash Wednesday) marks the beginning of the Church’s observance of the Lenten season—six weeks that are set apart for the purpose of drawing closer to God and seeking him with greater intensity. Unfortunately, the Lenten season often gets reduced to the question, ‘What are you giving up for Lent?’ This is a fine question, but it can only take us so far. The real question of the Lenten season is, ‘How will I repent and return to God with all my heart?’ ” -Ruth Haley Barton
It’s hard to believe that Ash Wednesday is today. Over the weekend, we pulled out some of the things we’ve used over the years to mark this time of Lent. The tradition described below is one way we’ve tried to engage with the question posed above of how we will repent and return to God in this season.
Crown of Thorns (beginning our 9th year of this tradition)
In 2010, we began to put into practice a very meaningful Lenten tradition called the “crown of thorns” that was shared with us from our friends Heather and Jennifer. The crown of thorns is made out of a florist foam ring covered in purple ribbon. I have also made these crowns with simple grapevine wreaths from an arts and craft store with purple ribbons strung through them.
Heather explained the idea on her blog a few years ago: “Throughout the season, we will focus on confession and repentance – learning to say we are sorry to God and to one another. Each time we say “sorry” we will stick a toothpick in the crown, and by the time we reach Good Friday, we’ll have a “crown of thorns” to represent the crown that Christ wore when He was crucified. It is a symbol to remind us that it is because of our brokenness that Jesus came to reconcile us to God and to one another – remembering that He said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. Therefore, I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” On the Saturday between Friday and Easter Sunday, when Jesus was in the tomb, I will shroud the crown with a black cloth and then on Easter morning, we will wake to a crown of flowers and lovely greenery. (The resurrection!) All those thorns transformed into vibrant life by His Power.”
The first time we did this nine years ago, my daughter Anna (age 6 at the time) and my son Taylor (age 4 then) did not have any “I’m sorry’s” to say when we offered an invitation, but then about half way through dinner, Anna said, “Taylor, I’m sorry that I did not share my Polly Pockets with you,” and then she put a toothpick in. And Taylor said (without any prompting from us): “Anna, I’m sorry that I was mean to you after school today,” and he also put a toothpick in the crown. Then Taylor went around and gave hugs to us all at the table.
We make the sign of the cross after we put our toothpicks in the wreath: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” I love the sign of the cross as it reminds me that we belong to God. We are crossing ourselves to remember that we are signed by the Author, that we are His workmanship and that we are treasured as His very own.
Over the past few years as we have embraced this tradition, it has been amazing to watch the kids take time to reflect and to admit wrong. This helps us come to God’s grace in the midst of our brokenness.
Lent gives us an opportunity to grow and to stretch, and we hope that this will continue to be a way to turn and step closer to God’s gift of love for us. A number of years ago, our pastor preached about how our disciplines are to draw us closer to God’s love and that we ought to embrace whatever discipline we might take on during this season as a child running to a candy store. I am looking forward to this Lenten routine again this year as a way to embrace this discipline of confession as a family.
As my friend Heather commented, “May we experience the peace of not being pierced anymore by our own toothpicks and the joy of seeing them transformed into beautiful life.”
Help us, Lord, to RUN to you- and in our running,
find that you have been running toward us all along.
When Heather put out her crown of thorns one year, her family read 1 Corinthians 13 together as a way to talk about the crown of thorns:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8
After reading this passage, she framed sin simply as a failure to grow in love. This totally resonates with me. I’ve heard this in other contexts before, but it sheds new light on this passage to be using it with our Lenten crown of thorns practice. 1 Corinthians 13 can serve as a mirror that shows me the places that I am in need of mercy and grace. So many of the challenges in life are really all about learning to love well, and Lent is a time that exposes me and gently reminds me that I have much to learn to grow in love—
May this tradition of having a crown of thorns during Lent be one that ushers us all into God’s love more fully and may we know that we can wear forgiveness like a crown because of His amazing grace.