A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley by Andrew McKearney on Maundy Thursday 2021.
The clothes that Jesus wears are mentioned both tonight and tomorrow in the gospels; and that’s unusual.
We’ve just heard how during supper Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe and ties a towel around himself. Then after washing his disciples’ feet, he puts his robe back on again and returns to the table.
Few of us can be unmoved by this.
We next hear of his clothing in connection with the soldiers. The soldiers strip Jesus and deliberately mimic the Roman emperor worship.
Purple is the colour of the cloak worn by the emperors. The crown of thorns is perhaps not to cause pain so much as to look like the image on Roman coins in which the crown worn by the emperor radiates streaks of light. And the cry of the soldiers mocking Jesus, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ deliberately parodies ‘Ave, Caesar Imperator!’
Sadly, we know that prisoners can be treated like this, even by armies as disciplined as the Roman army. It’s done to humiliate, and pleasure is derived from it.
Then the soldiers put his clothes back on him again.
When Jesus arrives at the place of execution, his clothes are once more taken off him.
All the gospels record the keen interest in these garments that Jesus has been wearing. Tomorrow we’ll hear how the soldiers cast lots for his tunic, a long robe, woven without a seam, and possibly made by the women who follow Jesus to the foot of the cross.
If these women did make it, then this robe speaks of their love and devotion.
Perhaps it’s this robe that the sick had reached out to touch during his ministry. Maybe it’s the same robe that tonight Jesus takes off and which tomorrow the soldiers strip from him. And then the women watch it being haggled over and stuffed into a kit bag.
It’s only when he’s taken down from the cross that Joseph of Arimathea brings a linen cloth to wrap round our Lord’s naked body. The loincloth on our crucified Lord is an artistic device; public nakedness was the reality of crucifixion.
There’s one other person in the story of these few days who ends up naked; we’ll hear about him in the reading at the end of our service tonight in the Gospel of the Watch.
Just after Jesus is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane and immediately after all the disciples have deserted Jesus and fled, Mark tells us in his gospel about a young man who’s been following Jesus wearing nothing but a linen cloth. We’re told that the soldiers try and catch him, but in the scuffle he loses this linen cloth and runs off naked into the night.
Mark often contrasts the failure of the twelve disciples with the faithfulness of some unknown marginal figure.
I wonder whether Mark wants us to see in this young man an example of someone who follows Jesus just a little further than the twelve manage and suffers the consequent shame of nakedness as his Lord then does. To follow Christ is to walk a path of utter vulnerability.
You see it looks like it’s being done to Jesus by the soldiers, but tonight we learn that something much, much deeper is going on; it’s a path chosen by Jesus out of humility and love.
Because before anyone takes his clothes from him, Jesus himself takes off his outer robe, wraps a towel around himself, and washes the feet of his disciples.
‘I have set you an example,’ he says, ‘do as I have done to you.’