Here is Brother Ivo’s part of a Good Friday Service, watching at the foot of the cross
This afternoon we shall be observing the time of Christ’s death upon the cross and considering its significance through six separate reflections. The scheme of these reflections this year is to do so through the colours of the story, an approach which is inspired by a series of paintings commissioned by Blackburn Diocese.
It falls to me to begin our time together reflecting upon the colour purple.
A theme I shall develop is that the colour purple had a number of important cultural resonances within the Jewish culture which we shall see at various points of the bible
There are, of course, within our own culture, a number of similar cultural references around the colour purple which we may also call to mind.
There is a Pulizter Prize winning novel by Alice Walker “The Colour Purple” which is all about someone at the very bottom of the social scale , an abused and ill-regarded outcast.
We shall find this, here, at the foot of the cross, where Christ has been rejected by the crowd and given over to the authorities to be crucified on the municiple rubbish dump, in place of a common criminal
In our culture we speak of ‘Purple patches’, which were originally a figurative reference to florid literary passages, added to a text for dramatic effect. They were the literary equivalent of adding a patch of purple material to an otherwise undecorated garment. Jesus is treated as a fraud: he may wear a purple robe, but it is only for the purposes of mockery, it convinces nobody and serves only to enhance their contempt for one who said he was theMessiah – but wasn’t.
Traditionally, if one was “born in the purple” you were within a category of members of royal families born during the reign of their parent. This was later loosely expanded to include all children born of prominent or high ranking parents.The parents had to be prominent at the time of the child’s birth so that the child is always in the spotlight and destined for a prominent role in life. A child born before the parents become prominent would not be “born in the purple.” The color purple refers to Tyrian Purple restricted by law, custom and the expense of creating it to royalty.
Jesus was plainly “born in the purple” , born during his father’s reign and entitled to be accorded the greatest of respect – but He does not get it. He does not claim it as His due. Rather than speak and take his birthright, he remains silent in solidarity with the poor, the outcast, the rejected and the condemned.
Finally in this modern section , some of you may know the famous poem by Jenny Joseph called
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
Jenny Joseph is giving a warning to all who has expectations of her; they will all be proved wrong. Assumptions shall be turned upside down when she takes to herself the colour purple.
I suspect that as we examine the Biblical references to the various colours we shall find that all is indeed not as we expect.
So as we pass through the service let us be prepared to be wrong footed. We are entering a reflective time of paradox, we are almost passing through the looking glass and will find things transmute and surprise.
In our Exodus passage, selected by me for this part of the service, from Chapter 27 Verses 12-19, we hear who God sets out what His Temple should look like and how it is to be constructed. It is palatial. The specifications are precise and lavish. in the chapters leading to this one He sets out how the chest, table, lampstand, dwelling and courtyard are to be configured.
9-11 “Make a Courtyard for The Dwelling. The south side is to be 150 feet long. The hangings for the Courtyard are to be woven from fine twisted linen, with their twenty posts, twenty bronze bases, and fastening hooks and bands of silver. The north side is to be exactly the same.
12-19 “For the west end of the Courtyard you will need seventy-five feet of hangings with their ten posts and bases. Across the seventy-five feet at the front, or east end, you will need twenty-two and a half feet of hangings, with their three posts and bases on one side and the same for the other side. At the door of the Courtyard make a screen thirty feet long woven from blue, purple, and scarlet stuff, with fine twisted linen, embroidered by a craftsman, and hung on its four posts and bases. All the posts around the Courtyard are to be banded with silver, with hooks of silver and bases of bronze. The Courtyard is to be 150 feet long and seventy-five feet wide. The hangings of fine twisted linen set on their bronze bases are to be seven and a half feet high. All the tools used for setting up The Holy Dwelling, including all the pegs in it and the Courtyard, are to be made of bronze.
Care is taken over the screen as a prototype of future Temples. Its colours are rich and ornate, regal and impressive
Later, Solomon’s Temple will also screen the holiest part of the Temple the Holy of Holies with a veil, this veil will be ripped in two at the moment of Christ’s death. even the holiest and richest site of worship constructed by human hand and invested with generations of prayer cannot withstand the power and blasphemy of what happens when Christ is crucified.
Riches and respect, sanctity and sacrifice will be rejected in that moment of ultimate sacrifice. Your rich cultural icons will be as of naught at that moment rejected and broken just as your Lord has been rejected and broken.
This is not the only cultural reference to purple we may find in the Bible
In the book of Estha the heroine of the story is an orphan Jewish girl who becomes Queen and saves her people with the help of her cousin Mordecai who foils a plot against the King; Estha’s husband, the King, honours her people and Mordecai.
“Mordecai walked out of the king’s presence wearing a royal robe of violet and white, a huge gold crown, and a purple cape of fine linen. The city of Susa exploded with joy. For Jews it was all sunshine and laughter: they celebrated, they were honored. It was that way all over the country, in every province, every city when the king’s bulletin was posted: the Jews took to the streets in celebration, cheering, and feasting. Not only that, but many non-Jews became Jews.
The Jewish festival of Purim was thus established – by one being honoured in Purple.
At Calvary the story is turned upside down.
He who wears the purple is not honoured. The Jewish people are venomous towards the saviour. At this point of the story there is no celebration or cheering.
We are seeing a mirror image of God’s saving of the people.
We, as people of the resurrection times, may know the next step in the story, but for now, we must see and understand how mankind exercises its free will to disorder God’s benificence towards us.
In the book of Daniel, King Belshazzar needs an inscription translated and Daniel can do it. He is rewarded
“Belshazzar did what he had promised. He robed Daniel in purple, draped the great gold chain around his neck, and promoted him to third-in-charge in the kingdom.”
So here again we see the purple used as a reward, a mark of distinction and favour.
In the Song of Solomon there is another symbolism to the colour purple, less regal but in this context, shockingly dissonent
1-4 Restless in bed and sleepless through the night,I longed for my lover.
I wanted him desperately. His absence was painful.
So I got up, went out and roved the city,
hunting through streets and down alleys…..
King Solomon once had a carriage built
from fine-grained Lebanon cedar.
He had it framed with silver and roofed with gold.
The cushions were covered with a purple fabric,
the interior lined with tooled leather.
Come and look, sisters in Jerusalem.
Oh, sisters of Zion, don’t miss this!
dressed and garlanded for his wedding,
his heart full, bursting with joy!
Here, the women of Jerusalem are being invited to come and admire the bridegroom, to marvel at his opulent status symbol carriage.
How this jars with the purple draped whipped figure, standing in his near nakedness.
Yet he too also about to consummate his destiny in a totally different, shocking manner,
As St John tells us, he too is garlanded – with a crown of thorns
He too is bursting but not with joy, rather with compassion sadness. He too is presented to those who have come to see; he too is greeted – with violent humiliating rejection.
- John 19:1-3 So Pilate took Jesus and had him whipped. The soldiers, having braided a crown from thorns, set it on his head, threw a purple robe over him, and approached him with, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they greeted him with slaps in the face.
- John 19:4-5 Pilate went back out again and said to them, “I present him to you, but I want you to know that I do not find him guilty of any crime.” Just then Jesus came out wearing the thorn crown and purple robe. Pilate announced, “Here he is: the Man.”
Earlier I said that Jesus could have claimed his birthright, could have claimed his due. I said that he did not, but by the end of our watching with him, by the end of our reflections, I think we shall find that paradoxically, he does.
In a very real sense, he does in fact claim His birthright which is to be the redemptive sacrifice, the sinless perfect lamb who is slain.
I suggested that as we considered the significance of the crucifixion, we should need to be prepared to enter the world of paradox, where things are not as they seem
So it is with the colour purple; it is a colour of privilege but it is offered to him in mockery.
He will confound the expectation of all who mock him. He will turn upside down everything they think they know about the Messiah.
They expected a warrior on a charger, they got a simple working man on a donkey.
They thought he would establish a kingdom of this earth, He establishes one for eternity.
He is however His Father’s Son, born in the purple, and a warning to all who think they have made God in their own image,
He is fulfilling His Father’s redemptive purpose.
He is entitled to the colour purple because he is the Servant King.