March 24, 2008
We work hard to keep it comfortable. We like predictable. We design our lives to minimize the surprises. Eliminate the conflict. Avoid the accidents.
But hard as we try, the unpredictable happens. We are blindsided by the unplanned. And often, it’s those intrusions on our highly detailed calendars that make all the difference.
Good Friday service always takes me by surprise. I attend because I need it. I know he was a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” I know “he bore our sins in his body on the tree.” I know about the agony in the garden. The trial that was more a political circus than a pursuit of justice. Thanks to the most recent movie version, I’m keenly aware of the savage cruelty and the barbaric brutality of the scene. But the familiarity with the story line needs to be re-awakened this time of year.
The celebration of Easter Sunday doesn’t ring true without the dark night of the crucifixion as a backdrop.
I need to enter into those moments of darkness and pain to catch a glimpse of the awful price that was paid for the sins of the world – and my role in it.
Joseph of Arimathea no more expected the events of the week than any of the other disciples. He was wealthy. We know he was a close friend of Nicodemus. The two were council members. He socialized with the Sanhedrin. He was accustomed to spending his weekends in the company of the most influential people in Jerusalem. I wonder if he was the first to hear Nicodemus as he processed that late night encounter with Jesus when he was told – “You must be born again.” Joseph and Nicodemus may well have engaged in a secret conversation well into the night pondering the question – who is this Jesus of Nazareth?
So it was from a distance that this wealthy, influential man watched events unfold that final week. It would change his life forever. Perhaps he stood in the crowd with Nicodemus, listening to the calls for crucifixion; watching his friend Pilate do the political dance, annoyed and confused about what to do with such a case as this. Something knotted up in his stomach as he watched the ruthless, vicious attacks and heard the angry shouting, the mockery, the contempt. As he made eye contact with Nicodemus, his long time friend and peer, what message was communicated? Disgust? Outrage? Sadness? Despair?
So it was no surprise that Joseph of Arimathea would be the one to make a behind-the-scenes visit to Pilate. “Let me take care of the body,” he said. And Pilate nodded.
The disciples knew. All four Gospels include this detail. His generous, sensitive act fulfilled Isaiah’s prophesy.
Joseph of Arimathea, encountering an unanticipated moment in history that took him by complete surprise, was forever changed.
A life transformed.
* * * * * * *
It’s Monday morning. You are a leader. You and I are fresh off the annual weekend celebration of the death and resurrections of Jesus. We observed the programs. We watched the performers. We listened to the messages. We heard the music. We sang along.
Did we participate? Or did we simply watch from a distance?
In our church Friday night, we were invited to come to the foot of the cross, and leave our burdens there. Together, Carolyn and I did just that. We held each other in the shadow of the cross. Wet-eyed and hanging on tight. And then we shared the bread and the cup. It was a Good Friday we will not forget.
Joseph of Arimathea watched his friend Nicodemus. He knew he had questions. Somehow that late night encounter with Jesus changed him. As the hostility heated up and the violence escalated and the options narrowed, Joseph was gripped by the injustice of it all. He couldn’t help himself.
He took action. Took advantage of his connections. Got an audience with Pilate. And gently, with great passion and sadness and grief, placed this Jesus in a suitable burial place.
No longer the distant observer. He now had a stake in the outcome.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2008