Ever have that sensation when you are coming home from the grocery store or the library or work or somewhere else familiar and you turn onto your street and suddenly wonder how you got there?
You were driving. You know in the far reaches of your conscious mind that you turned left at the shoe store that was able to progressively dye your satin pumps darker and darker shades of lavender during the “summer of weddings” just after college. And your intact tires testify that you successfully avoided the pothole that weekly creeps further and further into the travel lane from the shoulder in front of the park where your son fell off the climbing wall and knocked out his tooth when he was six. You know you did these things. You must have. You were at the grocery store or library or work just forty minutes ago and now you are driving past Mrs. Murphy’s freshly planted pansies, but you don’t remember a single minute of your drive home. Not this particular trip, anyway; just an amalgam of trips over the past days, weeks, months, years.
It happens with anything familiar – drives, chores, family stories. It also happens sitting in the pew on Sunday mornings.
Let’s look at this past Sunday. Palm Sunday.
- Everyone is handed a palm frond or cross made from a palm frond (or both) as they enter the sanctuary.
- The service will start with a procession up the aisle, usually involving small children flapping large palm branches with no regard to objects or people in their reach while waving at their proud parents or looking down at their feet praying they can sit down soon.
- This is followed by a reading of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem from one of the gospels.
- And so on.
You know the routine.
So do I. We worked through this same routine in our own church (sans the small children… they were part of an earlier service). Everything followed in its course:
- Palm fronds and crosses as we walked in? Check.
- Procession? Check.
- Gospel reading of triumphal entry including prayer in Gethsemane, ear being lobbed off, man running naked from Jesus’ accusers? Che…
My husband’s and my heads shot up at the same time. We looked at each other. Had we heard that right? We both began furiously flipping through our bulletins.
Yup. We’d heard it correctly.
When the heck was the streaker added to this story?! My husband grew up Baptist. I grew up Unitarian and Methodist. We’ve attended Orthodox Presbyterian, Presbyterian Church in America, and Anglican churches faithfully for the 24 years we’ve been married. We’ve spent time in campus ministry. My husband has served as a deacon. We’ve both taught Sunday School. Neither of us recalled this little tidbit. Must be an Episcopal thing, we surmised. It was the only logical explanation. That’s the danger when you do a dramatic reading/ paraphrase of the gospel story. Things get added. Things get weird.
We participated in the rest of the service. Left quietly. Turned and walked slowly down the street towards our car. As soon as we were out of sight of the church, my husband and I exclaimed,
“What was that?”
“You heard it too?”
Then we did what any good 21st century American Christian does when confronted with a theological question: we pulled out our phones, took them out of airplane mode, and googled.
Wanna guess what we found?
They all left him, and fled. A certain young man followed him, having a linen cloth thrown around himself over his naked body. The young men grabbed him, but he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked. – Mark 14:50-42, WEB
The reading was taken practically verbatim from the Gospel According To Mark!
How have we missed it all these years? You’d think a little tidbit like that would stick with you.
And even more perplexing to me is why Mark thought to include this detail in his gospel. None of the other gospel writers included it. Is it central to the story? Is it a final reminder that Jesus numbered the poor among his followers? Is it to show that Jesus was utterly alone? That even the poorest of the poor abandoned Jesus at his time of trial? That running through the streets naked was preferable to being associated with Jesus?