Purple – is fashionable twice –
This season of the year,
And when a soul perceives itself
To be an Emperor.
Emily Dickinson penned those words over 140 years ago. In a brief span of phrases, she was able to express a wonderful insight. She capably captured the irony that so often is lost because of its familiarity.
Luke sets the style for Lent. After the sentencing, the soldiers led Jesus into the courtyard and clothed him in a purple cloak. They twisted some thorns into a crown, and they put it on him. They then began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” The sarcasm of the soldiers added humiliation to the accomplished denigration of the prisoner in their custody. A cloth of purple cloaked the object of their abuse.
This season of the year there is no lack of purple threads adorning clergy and churches, wrapping our worship in cloth and ribbons of fabric coloured in fashion. We know the seasons of the Church’s year by the turning of the cloth and the year is marked in passing.
But purple is fashionable twice.
Monarchical models of both royalty and the episcopate carry the weight of purple, heavily. Those perceiving themselves in this role know the weight of such cloth. They know the irony of the colour; if not the humiliation then they come close to humility. Cloth of purple cloaks and what it hides from view speaks of Jesus’ closeness to broken humanity – sinful humanity.
Dickinson noted that purple is fashionable, but only twice.
In other respects, purple is unfashionable.
Exhausted, beaten, bruised, Jesus had known not only the jeers of his captors but their whip as well. The thin covering reserved for royalty-hid welts and bruises bloodied and purple from the flogging. He knew the proud flesh accompanying his beating and would wince at the weight of threads bearing down in ridicule. No healing bandages these!
Abuse has sought to cover wounds in every generation – inside the Church as much as outside.
Then human Jesus’ experience draws divine healing close to survivors of abuse in each one.
You may be familiar with abuse. Perhaps your mother knew such abuse, or possibly your grandmother. Your aunt may have been a family secret, or a cousin, or a niece, or maybe even yourself. The coloured threads are not always purple that are used to cover arms, legs, and shoulders. But we have seen sleeves and high necks and slacks hide purple flesh from judging eyes. False modesty poses for denial.
Victim and abuser meet on Good Friday. They meet in the suffering and tears of Jesus as he speaks, briefly, to the women of Jerusalem. Familiar purple on human skin, swollen and smeared with blood reminds unnamed women of how close Jesus came to their domestic experience.
Mindful of Jesus’ anguish, Monarch and Bishop cannot help but know the abusive weight of their cloth.
As for me, I have a renewed sense of the wearing of purple when I was invited some years ago to wear a purple ribbon on the lapel of my coat. At a store, I noticed a small container of purple ribbons each with a small brass safety pin. Raise awareness of domestic abuse was an unobtrusive sign beside the ribbons, and by coincidence, it was in the season of Lent.
When I wore my ribbon that year, I find some people are curious about it, and asked why I wore it. Their reaction came as a surprise to me. If the ribbon were for the defeat of breast cancer, they would concur and join me in my campaign. If the ribbon were for gay rights, they would be prepared to be judgmental and damning. But as the ribbon reminds us of the purple stripes of abuse, a reminder perhaps closer to us than we are prepared to admit, the conversation quickly and awkwardly falls into silence.
Now each time I place my bishop’s purple cassock on my body, or a purple stole around my neck or a chasuble over my head, I cannot but be reminded of that simple purple ribbon.
In that uncomfortable silence of Good Friday we all stand close, witnesses to Jesus’ redemptive suffering that brings healing to the abused and offers redemption to the perpetrator – forgive them for they know not what they do… In the very midst of devastating suffering, we have good news to find!
And that, dear friends, is the timeless truth of Easter, the truth which rises deep from within to give hope through the one who bore the faults of this world upon himself, so that we too, might know deep within the true and deep path to lasting liberty, strength and healing… O happy fault that won for us so great a Redeemer…”
Peace to your homes and every blessing to you, your family for a prayerful Lent...