Twenty-Fifth Hour Friends

By Mark Michael

“And Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud, and laid it in his own new tomb.” St. Matthew 27:59

Some people always show up at the funeral who could never be found at the beside. Sometimes they tend to weep a bit more than the rest, to send the showiest arrangements of flowers, to be most effusive in praising the dearly departed. They act as if they have lost part of their own souls, and everyone looks on and tuts about how hard it will be for them, how lucky she was to have friends like them. If only they knew.

As the sun goes down on Friday evening, Joseph of Aramathia and Nicodemus come to Pilate to ask of him the body of Jesus. They are the funeral weepers. Giovanni Papini calls them Jesus’ “twenty fifth hour friends” (Life of Christ, 376). They were rich men, prominent members of the Jewish establishment in Jerusalem, they both had seats on the Sanhedrin, among the elders of the nation. And they admired Jesus, they followed him from afar, were impressed by what they saw. Nicodemus, you might remember, had come to him by night long before, to ask about the mystery of new birth.

But when he needed them the most, they were nowhere to be found. If they had seats on the Sanhedrin, they stayed away the night of his sham trial, or else they sat still all through it. Did he cast those knowing eyes on them like he did on Judas: “would you betray your master with a kiss?” They had other appointments on Friday afternoon as well, family coming into town for the Passover, you know, and what if someone saw them there beside the cross and guessed at the truth. Did they say, like Peter, “I never knew him?”

Something had happened to them, though, in the darkness that spread over the land that afternoon. They had come to some kind of reckoning within themselves, a resolve to at least try in some way to do right by him, to provide what pathetic kindness they could. So they went to Pilate to ask for the Body.

And then, they did what the Jews had always done for their dead, provided the decent, honest care appropriate to anyone made in the image of God. They washed away the dirt and the blood. They anointed him with oils, and then spices and they wrapped Him in linen cloth. There is still a touch of the Passion here. Mary the sister of Lazarus, you will remember, had anointed him for his burial while he still lived. They were nowhere to be found then; but anoint and spice him now in death they certainly did. John tells us that Nicodemus brought 75 pounds of ointments and spices. Well meant, I suppose, but rather awkward and pathetic, like those floral tributes that don’t try to hide the price tag. They buried him in Joseph’s brand-new tomb, a rather awkward place for a boy who had grown up at the carpenter’s bench in Galilee. Here, again, there is a fulfillment of prophecy, for Isaiah had written of the suffering servant, “And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death[1].”

And today, Holy Saturday, He rested in the tomb, bound up in these strips of linen. He rested, the one who was crowned with thorns and betrayed for thirty pieces of silver. He bore the print of the nails, his tongue tasted the sour wine on the sponge. He had washed their feet and been pierced by the spear. And now, He rests in the linen shroud. For these seven days we have examined these objects, one by one. Each of them tells part of the story of sin, part of our story. Each is a testimony also of his unceasing love and steadfast obedience. He was greater than betrayal and fear and cruelty, greater than deprivation and humiliation and misunderstanding. He was greater than cowardice and brutality. And he is greater than death.

The Rev. Mark Michael is editor of The Living Word.

[1] Isaiah 53:9


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