Forming Faith Blog

Crown, Cross, King (John 19:16b-22)

We cannot rush past the scenes of pain, torture, and crucifixion, because even as he is enduring the pain and humiliation of his torture, Jesus’ love for us endures. This makes him our king.

A black and white cross against clouds. Jesus is an unusual king.
Photo by Pixabay on

In my tradition, we often have congregational readings of this scene, particularly the people shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” But as is often the case without coaching, the people in the worship service would read this in a monotone way that took away the anger and power in the language. Once, I got to read it instead of the congregation, and even better, I sat out of view. So, I shouted it to the point of startling some of the people.

I think that’s the point of this whole section. It’s to unsettle us. This is not a monotone story to be read aloud as if it’s the specials at an Olive Garden. It’s a painful and awakening story about people mocking Jesus as king, torturing him as a criminal, and sentencing him to death. These are the same people he comes to love, help, and save. This love stays with him through this pain and torture.

The Death of a King

The king imagery we use for Jesus is important. The focus on Jesus as the core of our faith, our life, and our future is so important. We often adorn our Christ the King imagery with crowns, gold, jewels, and ornate fabrics. Jesus’ first crown, however, is one that caused him pain. The soldiers made a crown of thorns intended to hurt Jesus physically and spiritually by cutting into his flesh and mocking the claim of royalty. He then had to carry the very tool the Romans would use to execute him to the site of his death.

So often we rush through the trial, torture, and death of Jesus. We want to get to the good part. But the spacing of these scriptures prompts us to sit with our Savior and King, bleeding because of his crown, carrying his own execution tool, and being abandoned on the cross by the people of faith. This is even hard for me to write. The good news is delayed for now. Thankfully, we know it’s coming. Because it always comes. God comes through.

Being a Witness to the Pain of the King

As we teach and preach this piece of the Gospel story, we need to take into consideration how people handle the images of torture and pain. We should not shy away from the reality that Jesus is tortured, but we do not need to dwell on the gruesome imagery for shock value. Also, while we do not want to disconnect this torment from the resurrection, we cannot rush past it. These suggestions offer ways of teaching the image of Christ the King as both sufferer and savior.

Show, Tell, Touch

Obtain or make a large cross (larger groups may need more than one). As you read this story, have people carry it on their shoulders to imagine the feelings of pain and exhaustion Jesus felt. Ask them to imagine having soldiers force you onto this cross in front of your entire community as you are tortured in front of a crowd. After the reading is finished, ask people to share with a partner or group what they felt when carrying the cross as the story is being read. For an added effect, you might also have a whip cracking in the background.

Adults may need to help children, so they don’t harm themselves with this. They might carry it with help.

Don’t Rush It

Sing or listen to a hymn, song, or spiritual such as “Were You There?” that draws out the experience of Jesus in his final hours. Listen to the verses and ask people to imagine themselves as someone watching from a distance what is happening, not knowing what is coming next. Ask them to reflect on what this scripture and song mean to them, and what it might have been like to be there. This could be done individually or shared in groups.

How We Deny the King

Just before this text, Peter denies being a follower of Jesus more than once. Jesus’ other disciples scatter at different points in the text, leaving only a few at the cross. The people in the story would rather kill Jesus than have him be the King. Much like the discomfort with shouting “Crucify him,” we have trouble acknowledging how we might cause Jesus pain.

Have a large paper cross. Have people come forward as part of the worship or learning experience and write the ways they might harm Jesus. Not everyone will be comfortable with this at first, so you might arrange for a few people to do it (including the pastor, worship leader, or teacher) to get the people started. If you don’t have time for people to come up, you might have people write it on papers that are collected by designated folk and added to the cross.

Imitate Christ

Scripture reminds us that we are to imitate Christ, and this is part of the life of Christ. Have people share testimonies of people they know who suffered because of their love for others. These may be missionaries, people in church history, or family members who struggled because of their love and dedication. People might bring pictures to include in a collage or display of remembering God’s love through Jesus, and our actions of love that imitate Christ.

The King Goes to the Cross

The truth is, this text is hard on purpose. If it were easy, I would worry about us, and the outcome. Sure, we know what comes just a few short days later, but we also know what happens on the way. We can never fully know the pain of Jesus, but we are recipients of the love he brings. No matter how much pain and torture he felt, his love for us endured, and still does.

Cheers friends,

Jonathan LeMaster-Smith

Jonathan LeMaster-Smith lives with his wife, Shannon, in Hildebran, North Carolina (District 12 of The Hunger Games movies). He holds a Ph.D. in Christian Education and Congregational Studies from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary with a focus on Rural Ministry and Methodist Studies. His work includes presentations on Dolly Parton, articles on ditch lilies, and musings about the genius of mayonnaise.

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: Sept 12 to June 5), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download our weekly “bulletin insert” home devotional resource for Holy Week of (4/10-4/16). This is a full sample from our Living the Word: Sharing God’s Story @ Home (NL) home devotional resource which can be used by many ages in many contexts!

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