I have noticed that Palm Sunday in our Episcopal tradition is often a fairly joyous occasion. We break out the palms, we march into church, we sing many of our favorite hymns, and we leave with a cross-shaped palm to hang from our rear-view mirror or a handful of palms to show everyone just how much we love Jesus. I get worried that we sometimes turn Palm Sunday into “Easter: The Prequel.”
But Palm Sunday is its own day, and, if I read the passion reading for today correctly, not many folks were waving their palms and declaring their affinity for Jesus.
Perhaps we would do well to follow this story a different way – to put ourselves in the shoes of someone else in today’s gospel reading. Not just any person, “A certain young man [who] was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.”
The Naked Man. Much has been written about who this interloper might be, but for our purposes, let’s consider him a young follower of Jesus. He’s probably a Jew, so he is familiar with today’s reading from Isaiah, and he certainly knows all the psalms by heart. And because he was a follower of Jesus, he probably was fairly familiar with the song found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which is our epistle for today.
Our friend the Naked Man, in meeting Jesus, suddenly has a whole new perspective on this hymn from Isaiah. He sees in Jesus finally the man with the tongue of the teacher, who sustains the weary, who doesn’t run away from the insults and the deprecations of the community. And the Naked Man, is a little scared. He knows where this might lead. So he hides in the shadows.
And as the Naked Man is in hiding, suddenly he starts humming Psalm 39. And soon enough he is full-out singing, “For my life is wasted with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength fails me because of affliction, and my bones are consumed.” In his desire to protect himself, to ensure that he isn’t consumed by the all-consuming fire that is the Spirit of Jesus, the Naked Man is suddenly forgotten, like a dead man, as useless as a broken pot.
So he ventures closer to Jesus. He is there when Jesus is anointed. He is embarrassed in the Garden when Jesus rouses the disciples again, and again, and again because they can’t stay awake anymore. He watches as Judas betrays Jesus, as the disciples lash out, perhaps he is even the man with the sword? And then he runs – runs because he continues to be afraid that he is wrong. That Jesus is not the one. That Jesus does not carry with him the power to heal not just our hurts in this world, but our sins and our offenses against our God.
The Naked Man isn’t afraid of Jesus. He is afraid of his own faith, and how that faith is necessarily going to put him out of step with THIS world.
But God is wonderful, and wonderfully good to us. A few years later the Naked Man is singing a song, a song to Jesus, “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,” when a man named Paul overhears the song and asks him to sing it again, so he can catch the tune.
Today we are the Naked Man. Fascinated by the dangerous, powerful love of Jesus. Scared of what it means to follow him, even at times running from the consequences of our faith. But gearing ourselves up for that day, which will come very soon, when we can proclaim Jesus risen, and truly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.