7 April 2012Mark 15:42-47
"Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus." (v. 43)
This is Holy Saturday - the day following Good Friday when we
recall Jesus' crucifixion and death. Today's narrative explains
what happened to Jesus' body after his death, and how it came to be
placed in its own sepulchre, rather than tossed into a mass grave
like the bodies of other executed criminals.
Around the story of Jesus' death, Mark has been introducing some named characters who were clearly known as followers or disciples, beyond the 12 specially picked companions. (The latter are nowhere to be seen at this point.) Joseph of Arimathea appears here for the first time, and all four of the Gospel narratives mention him as the one who provided his own tomb for Jesus' body to be laid in (Matthew 27:57-61; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38-42). He must have been a rich man to own such a thing, and interestingly he is said to be a member of the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin, which conducted the first midnight trial of Jesus. So here is an apparent enemy who was nevertheless sympathetic to the condemned man; he also was "waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God". Other Gospels assert that he did not consent to the decision (Luke 23:50-51), or that he was a secret disciple (John 19:38).
It would have taken courage to request the body of a criminal; who would risk being associated with someone condemned by the Romans as seditious? Pilate was surprised that Jesus was already dead (as sometimes it took days to die on a cross), but Mark makes it clear through repetition that Jesus was really and truly dead, and not capable of being revived. This would have been a matter of keen debate among some who wanted to believe that he did not really die - either because they wished to assert that the resurrection was a confidence trick, or because it felt 'wrong' that the holy one of God should really have suffered death.
But it did really happen. As with all bereavements, the first task of grief is to come to terms with the reality of the death that has occurred. Like the various women who steadily bore witness to the whole scene of horror, Joseph was not just generous and brave, but a realist.
A particular kind of courage is needed from the living, in order to make a practical contribution in the context of death and dying. What has been your experience of 'being there' and being useful when someone is dying or has died?
Like Joseph of Arimathea, when have you had enough courage to do something out of the ordinary in order to follow through your beliefs? What happened?