Luke 23:44-56 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Death of Jesus
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land[a] until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed;[b] and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. 47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.”[c] 48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49 But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
The Burial of Jesus
50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51 had 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. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning.[d] 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.
On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
How this day came about and this series…
The artist for this week’s selection poses a question, “How weighty a task?” When I originally told Michelle that I would preach on Joseph of Arimathea I knew just a little about him. He was there when Jesus died, and he gave a tomb as the place for him to be buried. I wonder if he tried to sell it today if he could put in the advertisement, “Only used a couple days.” Nonetheless I also heard from one of my preacher friends that he was the patron saint of all undertakers. The backstory on Joseph is pretty interesting. There are 12 Joseph’s mentioned in the Bible and in order of prominence he is 10 out of 12. He is named in all four gospels which is unusual for anything to agree that often in our texts. Yet there is a different take in John, of course you say to yourself, then the other stories. In John’s gospel, Joseph is accompanied by Nicodemus and they are the ones who not only buy the burial shroud, but the spices and they put them on Jesus’ body not the women who followed him.
The famous artist Rembrandt did a painting in which Jesus and Joseph not his Dad are in the light and then others are helping to take Jesus down from the cross. Yet this artist from A Sanctified Art has the back of a very broad-shouldered man carrying a body. How weighty of a task that must have been. You know how when a child falls asleep and you carry them to bed from the car or couch how heavy they seem. They weigh like my Dad used to say, “a hundred-pound sack of potatoes.” They are lifeless, and it is hard to get them in the right spot to move them. Also look at the picture and notice how Joseph is carrying Jesus like this (Arms out). It would have been easier to carry him in a fireman’s carry, so you could add more muscle groups like your legs and back other than just your biceps. I can’t imagine how his arms must have been burning carrying him from Golgotha to the tomb. The amount of strength that it would take to carry an adult male that far would be astounding. He would have to have arms the size of a modern-day body builder. To be honest with you, there is a lot that Joseph of Arimathea did that I can’t imagine.
Joseph grew up in a town called Arimathea which was also known as Rameth and Ramula. A town that was allotted or given to the Levites who are the priestly descendants called by Moses. Joseph was a member of the council who were the ones responsible for getting Pilate to hear their case against Jesus. Yet Joseph was not in agreement with what the group decided. He too was looking for the kingdom of God. The Messiah who would make all things right and now Jesus was the closest that had borne witness to the Kingdom. Joseph would have been an interesting person to hang out with. I imagine him large like the picture with a quiet sense about him. Yet very compassionate towards everyone.
When the council whose chief priest was named Caiaphas decided to attack Jesus, trap him in questions, and convince Pilate to hear the case against him Joseph didn’t want any part of it. He did not speak up either, at least as far as we know. But maybe he did try. In his quiet and compassionate way maybe, one-on-one he tried to get other members of the council to disagree with Caiaphas. Maybe it was Joseph who convinced Nicodemus to seek out Jesus that night and ask how a person could go back into a mother’s womb and be born again.
The inner strength of such a strong man to then bravely go to the palace and ask Pilate for the body was extraordinary. When a person was crucified they were usually left to hang as a reminder to the people of what happens to criminals who go against the Roman rule of the day. To ask for the criminal against the state Jesus’ body so that he could have a proper burial took great inner strength. In essence he was saying to Caiaphas and Pilate you were wrong to convict this man, he deserves better, let me honor him with an appropriate tomb for the Son of God. The hardest thing to do is to stand up for your convictions when it is unpopular, and you are outnumbered. But that is what Joseph of Arimathea did. As the artist asks, “how weighty a matter” not only in physically moving the body but now mentally to go against the powers that be of the day and see if he too might meet his own fate on another cross.
Yet, God was with Joseph when he asked for Jesus’ body and he was given permission to place Jesus in the tomb. Because of Joseph’s actions the women were able to see the place where Jesus was laid, know that he was wrapped in a burial shroud and the tomb sealed. They knew where to go on that Sunday to be the first to see the tomb was empty and that Jesus was among them. They were able to tell the disciples the good news that Jesus was risen, he was risen indeed. The kingdom of God did not die on that cross. Instead the gates to that kingdom were thrown open. We are all invited to see the throne of God because of God’s grace and love. No matter what we do that love will not be taken away from us.
However, sometimes we will be asked by God to take on some weighty matters. We may not be asked to carry a body from the cross to the tomb, but we may be asked to stand for those who can’t. The poor and hungry, the migrant or immigrant, the mentally ill or criminal in jail, the unpopular opinion and to turn the other cheek one more time. To be the modern-day Joseph of Arimathea and to be seeking the kingdom of God we will be called on to make weighty decisions. Maybe it is with our money, maybe it is with our presence, and maybe it is with prayer; but we will be called to serve not just the institutions of religion in the church, but our fellow human beings.
When that moment comes how will we answer? Will we stand with the others and shout crucify him? Will we go and ask permission to do the right thing? Will we bear the burden of carrying someone in their darkest hour? Will we seek the kingdom of this world and do what is easy? Or will we seek the kingdom of God and do what takes us out of our comfort zone? How weighty a task in deed! Amen.