15 April 2017

John 19:38-42

“After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave his permission; so he came and removed the body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about one hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” (vv. 38-42)

Psalm: Psalm 4


Today's passage speaks of two men at the periphery of Jesus' story picking up the pieces after his death. His disciples were either too afraid, too overwhelmed, or too scattered to organise anything to do with the practicalities of Jesus' death: this was left to others. Kind hands, but the hands of relative strangers.

Today Jesus is dead for the Church. It is a day of quiet and cold, a day when lights are gone out and no one is left to relight them.

And yet, there is a miracle hidden in plain sight at the heart of this story: all the people on all sides - disciples and priests and God-fearers alike - paused and kept the Sabbath. All hope is gone, the disciples' vision for the future dashed and their friend and leader killed, his body uncared for. And yet, they kept the Sabbath.

Even on this darkest day and at their worst extremity, these people paused to honour the Creator. They kept the seventh day of rest. None of the Gospel narratives make a special point of this Sabbath keeping; it is so much a part of life as to be unremarkable.

In the darkest hour of life, an awareness of the cycles of history and of creation itself can bring perspective. If words and reassurances fail, the awareness of the natural world and reaches of space can bring comfort. Even when our lives are over and all we dream of is finished, the world and our God will still be.

To Ponder

  • To what extent do you keep a Sabbath day of rest?
  • What brings you peace, when words fail and everything seems grim?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jennifer Smith

Revd Dr Jennifer Smith is a Methodist minister, and superintendent of the Ealing Trinity Circuit in the London District. Though resident in the UK since 1993, she is a US citizen and continues to observe US political and religious culture with interest.