Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion

Palm Sunday/ Sunday of the Passion (B)

March 29, 2015
Text: Mark 14:1-15:47

            “And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body.  And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked” (Mark 14:51-52; ESV).  The young man is not named.  Mark does this on purpose.  It is a literary device employed to pique our curiosity.  Who is this young man?  Why does he appear here, of all places?  The Holy Spirit is not so careless an Author as to weave meaningless details into His Composition.  This is here for a reason.  Many have surmised (and I include myself among them) that the young man is none other than St. Mark, John Mark, the human author of our Gospel.  That could well be the case.  It would not be unusual for an author to write himself into the narrative, especially if this is Mark’s way of confessing that he, too, denied his Lord, ran away from Jesus when the going got tough.  It is fun to speculate, but we can’t say for sure, because Mark leaves the man unnamed.  Because he has an even more important point to make.  The young man who runs away, the young man who is already dressed immodestly but now has to run away naked and totally exposed, the young man who abandons Jesus in His hour of suffering is not only John Mark, not only some random figure in the wrong place at the wrong time.  You are that young man.  And so are the apostles.  And so are Adam and Eve.  So are all their children.  This is humanity’s story.  This is your story.
            Note that the scene takes place in a garden.  God in the flesh, Jesus, is walking with His people, His disciples, sons of Adam all.  But in the time of trial, mortal men once again fail and fall.  In the face of temptation, rather than hold fast to the Word of the Lord, the disciples determine for themselves what is good and what is evil.  It is good to flee, they think, and leave Jesus to suffer His own fate at the hands of cruel men.  It would be evil to be caught and to die with him, they think; to take up their own cross and follow Jesus.  So as the serpent strikes the Shepherd’s heal, the sheep are scattered (cf. v. 27).  They all realize they are naked, vulnerable, exposed, so they hide.  Undoubtedly they make excuses.  Undoubtedly they turn on one another.  They are fallen men.  “You will all fall away,” Jesus had prophesied (v. 27).  Now His Words come back to haunt them.  Every one of them had boasted they would never leave Jesus in the lurch, that even if they must die with Him, they would never deny their Lord (v. 31).  Their track record would suggest otherwise.
            They already show their hand, making a big fuss when the woman anoints our Lord with expensive ointment at the house of Simon the leper (v. 3).  “There were some who said to themselves indignantly, ‘Why was the ointment wasted like that?  For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor’” (vv. 4-5).  The woman’s extravagant gift is a fruit of faith.  She anoints the Savior’s Body in preparation for His burial.  The reaction of those at the table is neither a fruit of faith, nor the fruit of any real concern for the poor.  It is stinginess dressed up with piety.  The Church has suffered from this sin from time immemorial.  Repent.  In any case, this is the last straw for Judas.  When the money isn’t handled as he sees fit, he leaves, and from that point on he seeks an opportunity to betray Jesus.  He will be there in the upper room to ask with the others, “Is it I?” (v. 19), and to dip his bread into the dish with Jesus (v. 20).  But he is there under false pretenses.  He bellies up to the Communion Table, but he eats and drinks judgment on himself.  For he does not discern the Body of Christ.  He does not eat and drink in faith.  He is a hypocrite in the true sense of the word.  Woe to Judas.  “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (v. 21). 
            Judas, of course, is the most egregious example of a disciple who falls away from Jesus.  But how do the rest fare?  After boasting of their faithfulness, Peter, James, and John cannot watch with their Lord for even one hour (v. 37).  They fall asleep when their Friend needs them most.  “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (v. 38).  It is true for all of the disciples.  Judas comes with the soldiers and every one of them scatters: “And they all left him and fled” (v. 50).  Look closely.  There is that young man running away naked.  There is his linen cloth, lying on the ground.
            It doesn’t get any better at Jesus’ trial.  Peter follows at a safe distance, but as our Lord is falsely accused, mocked, beaten, and spat upon, Peter doesn’t speak up for Him.  Instead, Peter is in the courtyard denying Him three times.  Just as Jesus said He would.  Peter is not so willing to die with Jesus after all.  The rooster crows twice, calling Peter to repentance.  Peter breaks down and weeps bitter tears (v. 72).
            And the hits keep on coming.  The Sanhedrin, the spiritual leaders of Israel, hand Messiah over to the Roman government to be killed.  The crowd of pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Passover sacrifice call out for blood: “Crucify him… Crucify him” (15:13-14).  Pilate denies Jesus justice for the sake of his own convenience.  Barabbas (literally “Son of the Father”), an insurrectionist, a robber and a murderer, goes free.  Jesus is scourged and delivered up to be crucified.  The soldiers worship Him in mockery, beat Him, abuse Him, then strip Him and lead Him out to the Holy Hill to be crucified.  They nail Him to the cross and lift Him up between two robbers.  They gamble over His clothes.  The chief priests and scribes and those passing by deride Him.  The very sun in the sky hides its face for three hours.  Our Lord is utterly alone, abandoned by His friends, the Church, the State.  And what of His Father?  Where is the Father?  His back is turned on His beloved Son.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v. 34).  Even the Father has left Him to suffer on His own.  That is hell.  He suffers it because of your sin.  And Peter’s.  And that of the Twelve.  Even Judas.  Even Pilate, the Sanhedrin, the robbers, Barabbas, Mother Theresa, and Hitler.  It all hangs there on the wood in the flesh of the Son of God.  This is the payment.  This is the sacrifice of atonement.  Jesus is the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.  He is the perfect Mediator between God and man, because He is God and Man, by His death reconciling God and man in the forgiveness of sins.  Of all people, the centurion in charge of the execution is the first to get it.  As Jesus utters a loud cry and breathes His last (v. 37), the centurion confesses what the disciples should have known all along: “Truly this man was the Son of God” (v. 39).
            And where are you in all of this?  You are there in the griping and complaining, in the hypocrisy and betrayal.  You are there in the boasting of your faithfulness and the failure as you flee.  You also have denied your Lord when the going gets hard.  You also have neglected justice for the sake of convenience.  You also have betrayed Him and pierced His sacred flesh with every sin, every breaking of every commandment, every lustful thought, every wandering glance, every juicy bit of gossip or sweet boast that passes over your lips.  You talk a big Christian talk, but when it comes right down to it, you can’t watch with Him one hour either.  You need your sleep.  And you certainly don’t want to take up your cross and die with Him.  I know you don’t want to hear it, but you are just like your parents.  You just can’t bear the temptation.  Instead of clinging to the Word of the Lord, you listen to the serpent.  You are convinced you can determine your own good and evil, and you reach for the fruit that is forbidden.  Hear the rooster’s early morning sermon: Repent.  But know this.  Even as you are the young man fleeing naked, your sin exposed for all to see, you are in the naked Man lifted up on the cross, your sin exposed for God’s wrath to be spent on it in His flesh.  That you be saved.

            You have denied Him, but He has not denied you.  You have forsaken Him, but He has not forsaken you.  There is great comfort in confessing yourself to be the naked young man.  The linen cloth is all the young man has with which to clothe himself.  It is immodest and insufficient.  It is his own version of Eden’s fig leaves.  But in the arrest, suffering, and death of Jesus, the young man and you are stripped of your linen cloths, your fig leaves, the sin you parade before God and others as if it were righteousness.  You are stripped of it, that Jesus may be wrapped in it and buried in it.  “And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb” (v. 46).  You see, Jesus does all of that to death.  He takes it to the grave with Him.  That He might clothe you in something better.  In the Garden of Eden, God sheds the blood of animals to clothe Adam and Eve in their skins.  At Golgotha, God sheds the blood of His beloved Son to clothe you with Jesus.  And you are no longer naked.  By your Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection, you are given the robe that is Christ Himself.  “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27).  And so you don’t need to run away and hide anymore.  You already died with Christ.  And Easter is coming.  No matter what happens to you in the days to come, there is one thing that is certain.  In the end, your grave will be as empty as His.  He cannot leave you in death.  You are clothed with Him.  You walk around in His skin.  Where He is, you are.  Weep your bitter tears this Holy Week for all your sin and all that Jesus has suffered for your forgiveness.  But so also, lift up your head and rejoice.  All of this has come to pass that you may be God’s own child, fully fed and fully clothed.  God has written it in the flesh of Jesus: You are loved.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                      

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