By Jane Williams
A Reading from the Gospel of John 19:38-42
38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
The bustle, noise, terror are over. The soldiers and the onlookers have gone home, business done, entertainment over. Jesus’ closest friends have disappeared. The beloved disciple and Jesus’ mother go home to try to console one another, as Jesus told them to, but the other disciples have not been seen since Peter denied Jesus in the courtyard of high priest’s house. Pilate quickly, carelessly, gives permission for Joseph and Nicodemus to take away the heavy, lacerated, lifeless body. Pilate has had enough and wants to go home and forget it all.
And so Jesus is left in the hands of two unlikely allies, until now, secret followers of Jesus but suddenly, unlike Jesus’ disciples, made bold by his death. Joseph of Arimathea has been too afraid of his own family and friends to openly admit his allegiance to Jesus, and Nicodemus had come to Jesus secretively, by night, hedging his bets (John 3:1-21). As he carefully, tenderly, wraps Jesus’ dead body for burial, perhaps he is hearing again in his head those words that he found so baffling at the time: “God … gave his only Son … not to condemn the world, but in order that the world may be saved through him” (3:16-17). They are no less baffling now; the Son has been given, but there is no sign of salvation, as far as Nicodemus can see.
Nicodemus and Joseph have brought a huge amount of spice and scented oil to wrap Jesus’ body, which suggests that they anticipated this outcome. As respectable insiders in the councils of the religious authorities, they may well have known what was to come.
They lay Jesus reverently in a new tomb, that has not yet held a dead body, and will soon be the setting for life unimaginable.
Dr. Jane Williams is McDonald Professor in Christian Theology at St Mellitus College. She is also an editor, a sought-after public speaker, and is involved in promoting theological education in the Anglican Communion. She is the author of a number of books, including The Art of Advent (SPCK, 2018).
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
St. Francis in the Fields Episcopal Church, Harrod’s Creek, Ky.
The Diocese of Bathurst (Anglican Church of Australia)