Joseph of Arimathea

February 19th, 2012

A Sermon/Monologue for Good Friday

Isaiah 52:13–53:12; John 18:1–19:42

As a member of the Sanhedrin, I had participated in audiences with the procurator of Judea several times.

This time was different.

This time, I wasn’t approaching Pilate as a representative of the powerful ruling council. I was going as Joseph, a citizen of Jerusalem.

Walking up the polished marble steps of the procurator’s palace, I reflected on how my friendship with Nicodemus led me here. I met Nicodemus after I was appointed to the Sanhedrin.

Nicodemus was a famous Rabbi. We soon became close friends, united by a deep devotion to the principles of Torah.

Early one morning a year ago, Nicodemus met me wearing a serious expression.

“Last night I met the Rabbi called Jesus,” he said.

My face must have betrayed shock. To speak with Jesus without permission from the Sanhedrin was forbidden.

“Don’t worry, Joseph. We met at night. Nobody saw us. The conversation was brief, but confusing. He spoke in riddles and I revealed my ignorance. But I will tell you this: he is a man sent from God.”

“Do you realize what you are saying?” I said, worried for my friend. “You could be cast off the council, or worse, for speaking such blasphemy!”

He eventually became convinced that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah!

At first, I couldn’t accept Nicodemus’s radical change of heart. I was angry with him and tried to dissuade him from his belief in Jesus. Instead, over time, by listening to my friend’s accounts of Jesus’ teachings and works, I, too, became a believer.

By the time I joined Nicodemus as a secret believer, it was too late to save Jesus. Caiaphas, the high priest, had convinced the Sanhedrin that Jesus must be stopped. It was only a matter of time before Jesus was captured, tried, and executed.

Jesus died on a cross as the Passover lambs were being slaughtered. Nicodemus and I sat together in silence while he was crucified.

I realized what I had to do. So I went to the procurator’s palace.

My legs were trembling when I reached the doors to the audience chamber. I could see Pilate on the far side of the room, perched on his throne, animatedly gesturing to one of the army of advisers who surrounded him.

After being announced, I walked toward Pilate as if approaching my own crucifixion. I knelt in front of the throne where Jesus had stood only hours before.

“I have come to beg a favor of the procurator, which I pray he will be gracious enough to grant. I would humbly ask His Highness to release the body of the man called Jesus of Nazareth to me for burial. He was crucified today.”

Pilate grimaced. “I remember him well. Why should I give you his body? We usually leave the bodies for the dogs and birds.”

“If it might please the procurator, our law says that one who is executed must be buried the same day. Also, if His Highness will indulge me one moment more, this is the Day of Preparation. Our Feast of the Unleavened Bread begins at sundown. If the body is not buried before daylight ends, our law prohibits burial until . . .”

“Don’t instruct me about your silly customs!” Pilate thundered. “I will grant your request, not because of your law, but because an innocent man deserves a decent burial.”

“Thank you, Procurator. You are most generous. Thank you.”

A centurion led me out of the palace and up the hill called Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. The bodies of the crucified lay crumpled in grotesque positions at the foot of the crosses on which they had died. Agonized souls, not yet dead, breathed in gasps.

I was led to a cluster of three crosses. Two men, more dead than alive, hung on the outside crosses. The middle cross was empty. An inscription in three languages nailed to it read: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

The centurion looked up at the two men panting for air, “They’ll soon be joining this one,” he said pointing to a body lying nearby. “I think this is the one you wanted.”

I had only seen Jesus once, from a distance, and the bearded face was unrecognizable to me.

“Is this one Jesus?” I asked a weeping woman standing a few feet away. She looked at me, nodded, and returned to her grieving.

I hoisted the body onto my shoulder (it felt surprisingly light) and started the march to the garden where Nicodemus was to meet me. The tomb, which I had purchased several months ago as a family burial place, had been completed only a few days before.

As I gently laid the body outside the tomb’s opening, Nicodemus emerged from the shadows.

“Is it really him?” I asked.

Nicodemus gazed at the body for several moments. Tears were streaming down his face when he finally said, “Yes, it is the Lord.”

“We must work quickly,” I said, because the sun was low on the horizon.

Nicodemus walked over to where he had been standing and began dragging a huge sack towards me. I went to help him.

“This weighs at least a hundred pounds. You must have spent a fortune on these spices!” I said.

“Nothing is too extravagant for the Lord’s burial,” he said.

Silently, we anointed Jesus’ body with the lavish amount of spices and wrapped it in the linen cloths Nicodemus had brought. Our tears mixed with the myrrh and aloes as we lovingly prepared Jesus for burial.

When we finished, we carried him into the inner chamber of the tomb and laid a pure, white cloth over his head. Nicodemus rested his hand on Jesus’ head for a brief time and closed his eyes in prayer.

Just as the sun was setting, we sealed the tomb by rolling the large, circular stone into the groove hewn for that purpose. It fit perfectly. Nothing will get in here, I thought.

Nicodemus and I walked into the soft light of evening, our arms around each other’s shoulders, comforting each other in our loss. It was finished.

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