So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Gol'gotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the cross; it read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." (John 19:17-19)
We continue our series on the meaning of our stained-glass windows today with #12: a crown of thorns and the charge brought against Jesus, INRI. The crown of thorns is well known from the story of Jesus' trial before the Romans. The Temple leaders accused Jesus of claiming to be a king and the son of God, which were titles that Augustus Caesar had reserved only for himself. So to mock Jesus, the Roman soldiers placed a reed in his hand and a crown of thorns on his head. The letters, INRI, form an acronym for the Latin words Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum which means, "Jesus [of] Nazareth, King [of the] Jews." This is the charge which made his execution legal in the eyes of the Roman State. Pilate places it above Jesus on the cross as his own justification for crucifying one in whom he had found no guilt. Writ large, the Crown of Thorns symbolizes the derision in which the "powers and principalities" of the world hold the Incarnate God, who preaches the reign of God's righteousness in a kingdom of freedom for the oppressed. The Charge against Jesus symbolizes the failure of all human systems of government to accomplish the mercy and justice which is the mandate of a creating and loving God. Paired as it is with the Palms and Cross, this window indicts the ridicule and falsehood of our fickle human heart; and one is reminded of that heart-rending hymn by the late-medieval poet Johann Heermann (UMH 289):
Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected, O most afflicted!
Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.