This long day is fading. Less than 24 hours ago Jesus was sitting with his friends, washing their feet, blessing bread and wine. And now he is gone; lying lifeless on a bed of stone. But the earth keeps spinning. The Sabbath sun sets. We prepare differently than they did. We see through the lens of the empty tomb and prepare with bridled excitement for what we know will come. For them, the tomb is still very much occupied. The day of preparation, the beginning of the day of rest, was a sign of time marching on, irrespective of the events of the day–but not oblivious to them. For the one who set time on its unalterable course was making preparations of a different sort. As day gave way to night, the way it had so many times before and would so many times again, God was preparing something special; an event that would change the course of history and rewrite the rules of reality. This Sabbath would be unlike any other, ever. God would not be resting on this day. There was work left to do.
Handled with care. Cradled down from the cross. Clothed in soft linen. Gently lain in a virgin tomb of cool stone. Cherished for the gift that he was. Honored for the King that he was. After so much violence and anger, such tenderness is refreshing. There is still some good in the world. He must have had to wash off the caked blood from his wounds. He must have had to scrub the dried sweat from his face and neck. Doubtless no one had ever been this this close to the adult body of Jesus the Christ. He kept himself at a remove from such physical familiarity. And yet now he is given over into our hands to wash and cradle, like an infant, before laying him down to sleep. In his death there is no longer anything held back. In dying for us, he is given over to us fully, he is wholly ours. Handle with care.
Image: “The Transport of Christ to the Sepulcher” by 19th century Swiss-Italian painter Antonio Ciseri.
50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.
Joseph at the beginning, Joseph at the end. From manger to tomb. One ushers him into this world in swaddling clothes, one ushers him out in linen cloth. Both good and righteous men, who, in difficult positions, chose to do the right thing. But what is goodness and righteousness in the face of so much evil? It was not enough to stop the council from their nefarious purposes. That is why we are dependent on more than our own righteousness. But we are meant to do what we can do, control what we can control. We do the good, decent thing. If Joseph’s insider status could not be leveraged to save Jesus’ life, at least it could be used to give Jesus a burial worthy of his stature. No matter the odds, do the right thing. And in the meantime, wait expectantly for the kingdom of God. He thought it was close with Jesus. But now all he can do is cradle his lifeless body, and lay him to rest. Well done, good and faithful servant.
Image: “The Deposition from the Cross” by late 16th century Italian painter, Michelangelo Caravaggio.