John 19:2. “The soldiers plaited a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe.”
“Parent Alert! Parent Alert!” screamed the headline in the Lynchburg Daily Panic. “Purple Teletubby Models Gay Life-Style.” And on TV that night, in the Geraldo spot, we saw the familiar features of an avuncular preacher smiling homophobia in the name of Christ. A month ago the anti-Christ was Jewish. Now this. And all claiming to speak for “Christians.” Claiming to speak for us, my brothers and sisters. The Devil has taken prime time, and done it in our name—worse, he’s done it in the name of Christ.
Why? Because a character in a children’s TV show carries a purse and wears purple. And purple is the “gay pride” color. “What kind of life-style are we modeling for our children?” asks the editorial in the Daily Panic. Look! My brothers and sisters. What color am I wearing today? Purple. What color is the celebrant wearing today? Purple. We have a bishop in church today. What color is he wearing? What color do we have on the altar today? Purple. What kind of life-style are we modeling for our children?
Look at that stained glass window half way down our church. What color is Jesus wearing? Purple! Purple. The color of kings and princes. Purple. The color wrapped around Jesus in his passion, at least in John’s version. In the moment of abuse in Pilate’s house, the color of kings becomes the color of the despised and rejected of the world. The color of “Gay Pride” is the color of “Christ Pride.” The color of Jesus is the color of poverty. It is the color of injustice. It is the color put on Jesus by those who spat at him. It is the color of the misfit. It is the color of those who are despised and rejected by men. It is the color of the man of sorrows. It is the color of all who are acquainted with grief. It is the color of those who mourn. It is the color of the hungry. It is the color of the powerless. It is the color of the King of kings, who rejects the kingdom of this world.
I have heard there is a Christian community among the landless native people of South America who never celebrate Easter. They never wear the white of Easter. They only ever wear the purple of the passion. Purple is the color of their life on the fringes of society. For them, the white of Easter is a hopeless sham. Purple is the color of Christ-pride. It is our color. It is easy for us to cling to the white and lose sight of the purple. We easily lose sight of the poverty of our origins. If you were here on Wednesday night you will have been reminded of where you came from. “Remember that you are dust,” the priest said to each of us, “and to dust you shall return.” If you go back in Church History, though, we start to recover glimpses of the purple. Listen to the words of Celsus, a pagan philosopher writing at the end of the second century:
First, however, I must deal with the matter of Jesus, the so-called savior, who not long ago taught new doctrines and was thought to be a son of God. This savior, I shall attempt to show, deceived many and caused them to accept a form of belief harmful to the well-being of mankind. Taking its root in the lower classes, the religion continues to spread among the vulgar; nay, one can even say it spreads because of its vulgarity and the illiteracy of its adherents. And while there are a few moderate, reasonable and intelligent people who are inclined to interpret its beliefs allegorically, yet it thrives in its purer form among the ignorant.
According to the New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, the carpenters of Jesus’ day were not the skilled, well-paid members of the middle class. Rather they were a little below the peasants and just above the lowest and most degraded of society’s members. Without the land to feed themselves, they hung on by doing odd jobs for those above them in the pecking order. Which of us has not had people like that doing things around our home? Celsus was right. It is inconceivable that anyone from this part of society should be the son of God. The soldiers were right to mock. It was ludicrous that anyone like this could be the king of the Jews. But this is where we have to start if we want to understand the good news.
It is purple time. It is the time when those who want to show up at Easter have to face up to what it means to start out with Jesus in the water of baptism and go with him into the desert of our world. It is time to learn that so much of what we think matters probably doesn’t.
God calls us to put on the purple robe of the Son of Man. Not the white robe of smiling certainty, but the purple robe of Christ-pride. God calls us to pick up the purple robe where it has been dropped by the soldiers who crucified our Lord. God calls us to wear with pride the purple robe of the despised, the impoverished, the frightened, the beaten and the lonely. We are called to wear the robe of the humblest of God’s people with pride because God made and loves each one of us. This morning’s gospel calls us to put on the purple, and go with Jesus into the desert and to join him in the battle with the devils of bigotry, hypocrisy and hardness of heart, to put on his purple and reach out to his world in his name.
What are we praying for this Lent? What kind of life-style do we model for our children as they prepare for confirmation? What are our catechumens getting into as they answer the Spirit’s call to baptism? There is an ancient Eastern prayer by St. Simeon Metaphrastes that is said before communion in the Orthodox Church. It goes: “Lo, to divine communion I approach. O Maker, burn me not as I partake, for fire Thou art that dost the unworthy burn.” When the priest offers the cup to the people he says, “In fear of God, with faith and love draw near.” God offers us the cup. Life with Christ is awesome. Life in the purple robe can hurt.
What is our word to the world? What is the word of Jesus to the world? Is it always to be the “NO?” of closed minded certainty and fear, or do we have the courage in the name of Jesus to offer the loving “YES” of the open heart? We are a powerful community, of powerful people. We have the power to snatch back the name of “Christian” from those who use it to support an agenda which has more to do with fear than it has to do with the Gospel of Christ. We will accomplish nothing unless we are prepared to risk the purple robe of Christ-pride and put ourselves on the line with Jesus. We put on the purple robe as we respond to the ministry of reconciliation that embraces all our brothers and sisters in the name of Christ. We wrap ourselves the purple robe of Christ-pride as we minister to the homeless and hungry of the City.
What kind of a life-style do we model for our children this Lent? How about we start by talking about the Color Purple?