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Filthy Rags of Deadly Sins: A Visual Focus on Repentance

Our Lent series this year focused on the theme of sin. We used the seven deadly sins as a guide to examine our sin in some of the services. The first week of the series was a very general introduction to sin. The second week we introduced the seven deadly sins, using dirty rags to represent each of the sins.

Each sin was portrayed by a specific color. We made the rags by ripping (literally, no nice cut edges) a section off of a larger piece of satin or taffeta in the needed colors. To make them look filthy, we put the rags in a plastic bag with toner from our copy machine and shook them. Before the first service in the series, we hung the rags haphazardly all over the platform in front of the sanctuary, with no explanation.

Prior to the second service, we chose seven people of different ages and genders from the congregation. To avoid having to “assign” a sin to a person, they drew a sin out of a hat. During the service, as the description of the sin they had drawn was read, these people hung their sin on the cross we had set up. (Our original idea was to have a dancer use dramatic movement to visualize the sins and then hang them on the cross, but after two major scheduling problems, we decided it just was not meant to be this year.)

The cross with the sins hanging on it was left on the platform for the rest of the Lenten season. On Maundy Thursday, we draped the “sins” on the communion table under the elements and had the empty cross near the table.

On Easter Sunday morning, the cross was covered with chicken wire and placed front center; during the service the worshipers came forward and put flowers into the wire. The flowers from the dead wood represent new life in Christ (see also RW 58, p. 18).

We sewed a large butterfly using the clean fabric from which we had ripped the “filthy rags” and suspended it over the place where the cross had stood throughout Lent. The same colors that had been used to portray the filthy rags of our sins now represented our new life in Christ. (See chart.)

Several people expressed appreciation for the visual connection from Lent to Easter. One comment in particular stood out. A mom who had been unable to attend the Easter services thanked me the following week for the cross and butterfly images. She said that her third-grade daughter had come home from church very excited. She’d told her mom all about the butterfly, that it had all the colors of the sins, and then told her mom what each color meant, first as a sin and then as a Christian’s “new life.”

Without the “sins” hanging on the cross and then the clean butterfly, would this third-grader have retained all of this?

 

Some Notes
  • Our cross is freestanding. We actually have two, one with chicken wire and one without. They were originally formed from old Christmas trees; we set them up using Christmas tree stands so they can be used where desired.
  • We spent six weeks focusing on sin and did not get one complaint that the series was depressing or too heavy! In fact, we had families who invited friends during the series.
  • It would be very easy to use sins other than those focused on in this series if a congregation felt they had some other sins they wanted to focus on.
  • • The service bulletin included an explanation of the Easter butterfly and a description of the colors and sins they represented (see sidebar).

 

The Easter Butterfly    
Color Sin Lent Easter
Blue Sloth “I’m blue” is often an excuse to do nothing. The liturgical color for hope is blue.
Purple Pride The color of royalty. Our pride makes us want to be king of our own lives. The liturgical color of repentance. 
      When we repent of our pride,
    we recognize the eternal king.
Green Envy Have you ever been green with envy? God’s creative genius as it is seen in creation.
Red Anger When we burn with anger we say we The blood of the Lamb cleanses us.
  “see red.”  
Fuchsia Lust An excessive color, just as lust is excessive Fuchsia reminds us of beauty as God intended.
  love for that which God created to be good.
Yellow Greed Yellow, the color of gold, reminds us
  of the desire for material wealth. The brightness reminds us of God’s glory.
Orange Gluttony A color of fullness, eating A color of harvest, fall colors remind us
  for the sake of eating. of God’s provision for us.

 

The Easter Butterfly

The butterfly is a symbol that has been used for many years to represent resurrection and eternal life. As the butterfly leaves the pupa and soars upward with a new body, so through Jesus, his followers share in his death and resurrection and will receive a new body that will not decay.

Our butterfly also reminds us of the renewal we receive through Christ’s death and resurrection. The fabric and colors are the same as those we used to represent the seven deadly sins during Lent. The chart below compares the Lent colors to the Easter colors.

Pride (Purple)

  • “Pride is a sin of selfishness—self-centeredness, self-satisfaction, self-exaltation—and on selfishness our societies are founded” (p. 51).
  • “‘Being proud of oneself’ is often equated today with ‘feeling good about oneself’; it sometimes seems to be an all-embracing justification for being anything (or nothing)” (p. 40).
  • “A reasonable and justified self-esteem is not what is meant by the sin of Pride. . . . Its synonyms are not attractive: vanity, vainglory, conceit, arrogance, egotism, boastfulness, self-glorification, selfishness, and many more, all of which we use as terms of reproach” (p. 39).

Envy (Green)

  • Envy is the “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage” (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition).
  • “One of the destructive forms that Envy takes today is the widespread assumption that everyone should be able to do and experience and enjoy everything that everyone else can do and experience and enjoy” (p. 62).
  • “We seem no longer able to admire, respect, or be grateful for what is nobler or lovelier or greater than ourselves. We must pull down—or put down—what is exceptional” (p. 64).

Anger (Red)

  • “Anger as a deadly sin is ‘a disorderly outburst of emotion connected with the inordinate desire for revenge’; it may be inordinate ‘either in regard to the object on which [it] is vented, or in the degree in which [it] is fostered or expressed’” (p. 88)
  • “Anger may not always cause a deep wound, but it must leave a residue of hatred in the end, a desire for revenge” (p. 87).
  • “It is the love of justice perverted into the desire for revenge and for the injury of someone else” (p. 108).
  • “One of the most common provocations to anger in our day-to-day relationships is a sudden onrush of fear, and one of the most common causes of this fear is that we are anxious not to be shown to be ignorant” (p. 101).

Sloth (Blue)

  • “Sloth has been described in theology as a ‘hatred of all spiritual things which entail effort,’ and ‘faintheartedness in matters of difficulty’ in striving for perfection” (p. 123).
  • “‘In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair,’ says Dorothy Sayers. ‘It is the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it would die’” (p. 114).

Avarice (Yellow)

  • “This is Avarice: the love of possessing, rather than the love of the possession” (p. 136).
  • “Avarice today does not seem to be shut away. On the contrary, our love of possessing seems to be out in the open, on view to everyone, even flaunted in their faces” (p. 134).
  • “We depersonalize our own selves in our Avarice, in the objects we use to represent and announce our status, and in the end we dehumanize ourselves. We begin to treat ourselves as objects” (p. 140).

Gluttony (Orange)

  • “As with all the sins, Gluttony makes us solitary. We place ourselves apart, even at a table of sharing” (p. 155).
  • “The glutton’s contempt for the bounty of creation is reflected in each of us and in our societies, in the insatiable appetite with which we burn up ‘all things bright and beautiful’ that have been provided for our well-being” (p. 168).

Lust (Fuchsia)

  • “Lust is not a sin of the flesh so much as a sin against it” (p. 177).
  • “Lust is a humiliation of the flesh, of another’s and of one’s own; and it is a perversity of our times that . . . we not only tolerate this humiliation, but exalt it as a wonder of the modern age” (p. 177).
  • “It is significant that we say we lust after a person or object. Lust is always in pursuit and ends as empty-handed as it began” (p. 179).

—Unless otherwise indicated, quotes are from The Seven Deadly Sins Today by Henry Fairlie. Reprinted by permission of THE NEW REPUBLIC, ©1978, The New Republic, LLC.