Reflections for Good Friday (Mark’s Gospel)

Click here to read Mark 14:1-15:47

My sermon from Good Friday (March 30, 2018) on the Passion according to Marl. Small chapel service at 12 noon. Read manuscript pieces below.


Sights and Sounds of the Passion
One of the insights to faith that I like to borrow from our Jewish siblings involves Passover. Tonight, Jewish people all over the world will gather together around tables to tell the story about who they are and what God did for them. But they are doing more than celebrating a holiday and sharing a history lesson. Passover is when every Jewish person is invited to re-experience the story of Exodus. They are binding themselves to the story of who they are. The words, smells, and tastes of the passover meal re-connects them to the words, smells, and history of their own story. When the Jewish people celebrate Passover, they are emboding and embracing a history, an identity, and a reality that began in the fields of Egypt 3300 years and continues to these very day.
So today I’m going to invite all of us to do something similar. Let’s spend this moment re-experiencing Jesus’ story. There will be moments today when I will share a reflection or two about the text. And there will be another moment when all of you will be invited to share which sights and sounds and images from Jesus’ story are making a difference for you, right now.

Reflection After Peter’s Denial/Last Supper

One of the things people recommend when you’re trying to eat moderately is to make sure you avoid the bread basket. But, if I’m honest, I never can. When I’m at a restaurant and the waiter puts in front of me a basket full of warm and crusty french bread or maybe some pita or even a big batch of Na’an, I will eat all of it. I might indulge a little by spreading some butter on it or by dipping the bread in some olive oil. But usually, when it comes to a big ol’ basket of any kind of bread, I don’t need any garnishes. I just eat whatever is put in front of me.

I wonder what kind of bread Jesus and his disciples used in the passage we just read. Since it was passover, I’m sure it was an unleavened flat bread, similar to matzah. And if we’ve had matzah before, we can assume we know what Jesus’ flatbread tasted like. But if you’ve ever had a bagel from someplace other than the New York City area, then you know that even the water can change how something tastes. A flatbread that was made using water from a modern water system in New Jersey will probably taste slightly different than flatbread made in California or Mexico or Japan. So I wonder what Jesus’ flatbread tasted like, 2000 years ago, in an era without running water, gas stoves, or non-stick pans. Is this the kind of bread we can imagine tasting? Can we, if we close our eyes, smell it? And can we also imagine what the disciples must have felt when Jesus, their friend and teacher, said that someone eating that bread would betray him?

Everyone in that room, I imagine, ate from the same bread basket. Everyone dipped into the same bowl of olive oil. Everyone ate together and everyone responded to Jesus the same way. They became defensive. They sounded confused. And they acted like they couldn’t even imagine betraying or leaving Jesus’ side. All of them promised to always be with Jesus- not realizing that in that moment, Jesus was already fulfilling his promise to be with them, forever.

Reflection After Everyone Fled

The naked young man running away is one of the stranger sights in the gospel according to Mark. Mark is the only one who shares this tidbit and this visual image is rather striking. A young man is following Jesus but seems to be sort of in the back. He’s wearing only a linen cloth which some scholars imagine to be his underclothes or maybe his pajamas. During the arrest of Jesus, everyone attempts to flee but this young man, for a moment, is caught. He breaks free but, in the process, loses his clothes. And he runs off, into the night, completely nude. It sounds almost comical, like a scene we might find in a rom-com or on America’s Funniest Home Videos. But it feels odd for Mark to try and lighten the mood of the scene when Jesus is betrayed, arrested, and abandoned. So why does this naked young man show up in the gospel according to Mark?

In all honesty, I have no idea. Scholars and commentators don’t really know either. Some try to identify a specific member of the twelve that was running around in their pajamas, like John or James. Others try to weave in elements from the other gospels, imaging this young man to be Lazarus. Still some think he’s a random person, maybe even the owner of the garden of Gethsemane. I read one argument that tried to tie this moment to how Jewish city guards would be shamed if they were caught sleeping on the job. Still others assume that this story was Mark’s personal story – that he was the one who was young, following Jesus, and ran naked into the night. Mark, according to this theory, made sure to include himself into it, like a painter painting themselves into the background of some great work.

I don’t know which theory is true but there’s one explanation for this naked young man that I tend to lean on. And this explanation is centered on the fact that the young man is unnamed. We know nothing about him. We don’t know where he is from, where he lived, or who his parents are. We don’t even know how long he has followed Jesus. All we know is that he is there when Jesus was arrested. He’s present when the values of this world – the values of greed, power, and violence – make their move against the Lord. He watches the world move against Jesus and then he flees, into the night. This young man, I think, represents all of us. Jesus’ story isn’t about something that happened 2000 years ago. Jesus’ story is happening to us, right now. We are the ones who are present when the world rebels against what God is doing. We are the ones who struggle to stay awake and see what God is up to. We are the ones who sometimes flee from God and, in the process, we end up vulnerable and alone. Yet even though we are the ones fleeing from God, God isn’t fleeing from us. And when another unnamed young man shows up in the gospel according to Mark, we will see the promise of hope, presence, and love that God chooses to wrap around all of us.

Holy Conversation After the Cock Crows
Ask people to share what they are feeling; they’re thoughts; they’re questions; what they’re seeing and experiencing)