Walking with Joseph

February 17th, 2012

Mark 15

As much as we think Mark has prepared us for Jesus’ death, there is probably a part in each of us that holds out hope that it won’t end the same this year. Maybe the crowd will realize how unjust this is. Maybe he’ll actually come down from the cross and teach those who taunt and mock a lesson. Maybe. . . no, this story is not a modern DVD; the story doesn’t have alternate endings. The story is what it is: an invitation to follow a path. It is an invitation not to change the path, but to be changed by walking it. The story invites us in and up and farther and deeper. We are invited to find ourselves in this story, and if we do—if we dare to expose our inner thoughts—we’ll see that we are drawn to perversions of justice wherein the status quo is preserved by the sacrifice of an innocent. We’ll notice that we need Jesus to stay on that cross, because no one we know would or could forgive like that. We balk at the kind of forgiveness that willingly suffers crucifixion. Our notions of justice or fairness squirm over this kind of suffering. Are we really surprised that the cross is a scandal to us and to our world? A crucified Messiah was a stumbling block in Jesus’ day, just as it is in ours. Still, the story beckons us forward, calls us beyond ourselves and our confused perceptions of reality. Can you step into this story? Can you let it step into you?

As it turns out, the crowd—well, one lone centurion—does finally recognize the injustice, and Jesus does descend from the cross, except his body is dead and lifeless. It is at this point in the story that we encounter the figure of Joseph of Arimathea; a respected member of the council and closet Kingdom-hopeful. It is on this day in the church year that the lectionary forces us to walk alongside Joseph of Arimathea from the cross to the tomb.

We are walking with a man we don’t know much about. Still, it is Joseph—not Peter or any other disciple—who garners the courage to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body. Imagine with me the scene as he makes his way from Golgotha to the tomb. His pace is slow but consistent, the pace of an individual with a heavy burden. Is he pulling a cart? Maybe he is leading a donkey. Or, is he carrying his burden in his arms? Reality must be setting in as he physically takes Jesus’ limp and bloody body to the tomb. Perhaps he is numb from the day’s events. The prospect of life without Jesus is frightening, not to mention that Barabbas is roaming the streets again. It wasn’t supposed to end like this, Joseph probably thinks to himself. If this is the kingdom I have been hoping for, I don’t want any part of it! Whatever his thoughts, it is certainly a quiet, lonely walk. The macabre silence that naturally accompanies death is present as he walks, but there is a thicker, deeper silence in the air. It is the recognition that moments such as these are beyond words. He is caught between certain death and possible life. And like many of us on this day and in our own contexts, Joseph is probably wondering: What about all of his words of promise and hope? And that cryptic ‘temple being rebuilt in three days’ comment— what was that? I hate to admit it, but those naysayers make a good point: Why couldn’t he save himself? How does a life like that end in a death like this?

These are the kinds of questions Mark 15 invites us to ponder on this day, Passion Sunday. It is often to our detriment that we rush to Easter, to resurrection, to new life. But the Christian calendar and the lectionary refuse to let us pass these portions of the gospel story too quickly. In fact, it is precisely because we anticipate Easter so much that we need Passion Sunday and Lent and Maundy Thursday. Without dark days, can we really appreciate sunny days? So, will you join Joseph as he walks in silence toward the tomb of our Lord? As we pause on this day, somewhere between mourning and anticipation, the sting of crucifixion remains strong, but so does the promise of resurrection. Somewhere in the middle of all of this we find ourselves silent. Are there words for those deep feelings and gnawing questions within us? Not right now. We walk, convinced of what lies behind, hopeful for what lies ahead. Amen.

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