24 March 2024

The Liturgy of the Passion really requires little in the way of resourcing. In many ways it is best to allow the Scriptures to speak with as little embellishment as possible. However, one feature that is included in the Mark account of the passion, and that could be highlighted this year, is the young man (who is sometimes thought to be Mark himself) who flees naked into the night when Jesus is arrested. There are some wonderful creative possibilities in using this image as a symbol of what this day can mean for us.

May we come to worship ready for the cross to leave us naked and honest before God.

Isaiah 50:4-9a: A prophecy of the obedient servant, beaten and mocked, but vindicated by God.

Psalm 31:9-16: The cry of God’s servant, persecuted and beaten.

Philippians 2:5-11: Jesus’ humility and obedience in his incarnate, crucified life, and God’s exaltation of Christ.

Mark 14:1-15:47: This long reading runs from Jesus’ anointing at Bethany through the Last Supper, Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial, to the trial, crucifixion and death of Jesus. It’s a meditative journey through the passion of Christ from Mark’s perspective. One notable feature this year is the young man (Mark himself?) who ran away naked when Jesus was arrested.
OR Mark 15:1-39, (40-47): This shorter reading picks up just after Peter’s denial at the start of Chapter fifteen, and puts the focus on the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.

It is only the Gospel reading that changes each year for the Liturgy of the Passion, and the essential elements of the story remain the same with the Synoptic Gospels. The invitation for this Sunday is to meditate on the passion – the self-giving – of Christ, and allow it’s power, it’s drama, and it’s impact for our lives to confront us again. If the long reading is used, there is little need for a sermon, and the Scriptures can be allowed to speak for themselves. If a message is to be preached, though, it is probably wise to avoid being either too ‘clever’ – trying to find something too new and surprising here – or too familiar – just repeating old formulae. This is a tough ask, but, perhaps, the key is to create space for the hearers to make their own connections and draw out their own implications. One thing I would certainly avoid, though, is to make the focus of the service a simple “Jesus died for me” message. Mark’s version of the Gospel story highlights a striking contrast between Jesus’ refusal to give up his integrity and love in spite of the cost, while all around him, for various expedient reasons, his disciples betray, deny, or abandon him, and the religious leaders and people reject him. Yet, as symbolised by the young man’s naked flight, we are all left naked in the face of Christ’s grace and love, and when we face the cross, our true selves are revealed, confronted and, if we allow it, healed. This is more than just personal forgiveness. It is about transformation of both individuals and society. The Gospel reveals the cross as the final judgement of human Empire, and the final revelation of God’s Reign which is established in the crucified Christ. It is important to remember that the original ending of Mark had only a very brief, and quite disturbing resurrection narrative, which heightens the drama of this Sunday’s readings.

Global Application:
Two significant features of this year’s passion narrative that challenge us on a global scale are the comparison of God’s Reign (as revealed in Christ’s death) with the Empires of the world (symbolised by the Romans and the religious leaders), and the way Christ reveals the truth about us – as seen in so many of the people around Jesus, but symbolised by the naked young man running away. In the first instance, this world of conflicting ideologies and violent struggle needs to see itself for what it is – competing Empires seeking to dominate all others. As long as we retain thie imperial way of working in the world, peace and justice will continue to elude us and the gap between rich and poor will continue to grow. However, if we can allow the vision of God’s Reign to capture our heart, we may begin to learn the power of self-giving and service, which will enable us to listen to one another, to share resources, and to make space for our diverse values, religions and needs in our one world. In the second instance, the way the cross confronts us is not just a judgement, but a doorway to freedom from our worst selves. The corruption, power games, greed, and denial that so easily define our politics, economics, and international relations are destroying us, but if we will allow ourselves to see ourselves truly, the worst in us can be acknowledged and healed. This is incredibly difficult for us to do on our own, somehow, but in the face of the cross, perhaps we can find a way. At the very least, if we can start in the Church, we can set an example for the rest of the world of what true repentance looks like, and the healing and justice it can bring.

Local Application:
It is easy to get so overwhelmed with global suffering that the pain on our doorstep gets forgotten. This Sunday it would be good to remember that there are people sitting in our churches who are grieving, who have been abused or rejected, who are living with life-threatening diseases, and who have lost homes or financial independence. It is deeply comforting to proclaim again that Jesus stands with all of these people in their pain, and that Jesus opposes any system that uses injustice, exploitation, control, and coercion to achieve its ends. It can also be a gift to gently call people into service and compassion in the midst of their own grief, because it is often in serving others that we find comfort and healing for ourselves. In this way the global suffering and the personal suffering can be brought together, with the cross as the place where they and Christ meet. Finally, it may also be helpful to spend some time in confession acknowledging the ways we contribute – both globally and locally – to the suffering of others, through our thoughtless consumption, our lack of awareness of companies and industries in which fair trade practices are ignored, our apathy, and our self-absorption. All of this can be a bit heavy, but it’s important that our worship does not fall into a shallow “happy” mode all the time. While there are times for celebration, there are times for grief, and this is one of them.

If Not For Your Embrace Of Death
The Mystery Of Your Love
No Dying Today
What Life Can Be

Hymn Suggestions:
O Sacred Head Now Wounded
O Love Divine What Hast Thou Done
Jesus! The Name High Over All
Depth Of Mercy
And Can It Be
God With Us (Link to YouTube video)
Amazing Love (Link to YouTube video)
Once Again (Link to YouTube video)

A Short Liturgy for Maundy Thursday (Can also be used for Passion Sunday)