So here we are. Today, Holy Saturday. The excitement and buzz around yesterday’s execution has subsided and the celebration of tomorrow’s fulfilled promise is yet to take place. Today it is dark and it is quiet.
Falling between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Holy Saturday is the time in Holy Week where believers are called to pause and reflect on the burial of Jesus. Like many of the events surrounding the final days of the incarnate Nazarene, the gospels do not agree on all of the details pertaining to the burial of the Son of God. However, similarities do exist that provide still further insight into the character of Christ.
In all four gospels, the reader is introduced to a (surprisingly) rich disciple known simply as Joseph of Arimathea. We are told that he was a “respected member of the council,” (Mark 15:43 NRSV) but not told which one. It is clear that he had some influence for he convinces Pontius Pilate to turn over the dead body of Christ. Upon reception, the burial proceeds in a rather traditional manner. Jesus is wrapped in linen, anointed with fragrance, and placed in a previously unused tomb. There are woman mourners present and the entire ceremony occurs in such a manner that the body can be buried before sundown in accordance with tradition. With the exception of the reality of the person being buried, there is nothing particularly astounding about the process. The story’s undertaker, Joseph of Arimathea, does however raise further curiosity.
Such a traditional ceremony is surprising from someone who may not have been a Jew. Arimathea was an Israelite town and the council mentioned in Mark may have been one composed of Hebrews, however John explains Joseph’s previously anonymity by writing that his discipleship occurred in secret due to his, “fear of the Jews” (19:38 NRSV). This fear may have been that of a cautious outsider or of a nervous inside betrayer of the faith. Despite his ethnicity, one thing is made very clear, this man from Arimathea had money; enough money to afford a brand new tomb; enough money, and therefore means, to meet and make requests of the Governor of Rome. Here we find not the command to the rich young ruler to sell all of your possessions to have treasure in Heaven, nor do we hear anything about a camel or an eye of the needle. Joseph does not resemble one of the nomadic twelve who gave up material wealth to follow Jesus of Nazareth, but that does not mean that he did not suffer.
The gospels also tell us that Joseph of Arimathea was expectantly awaiting the Kingdom of God. While other disciples we confused with issues of status in the afterlife and proper conduct in the present one, Joseph concerned himself with that which Jesus spoke of the most; the Kingdom. A Kingdom in which the last shall be first and the first shall be last. An odd thing to expectantly await from a powerful and wealthy individual. But, just because Joseph’s suffering is not easily visibly identified, does not mean it doesn’t exist.
In the midst of doing ministry, it is easy to be consumed by visible need. Jesus spoke frequently about caring for the hungry, poor, and outcast; the least of these. However, Jesus also commanded us to love your neighbor as yourself. Not just the beggar on the street corner, but also the CEO on Wall Street. Grammy award winning Gungor express this sentiment in song, “Atheists and charlatans/and communists and lesbians/and even ‘ol Pat Robertson/Oh God, He loves us all/Catholic or Protestant/terrorist or president/everybody, everybody loved.”
We know not the specifics of Joseph’s affliction, but for someone who expectantly awaited the radical change of current circumstance, we can be certain that it existed. There are no stories of the sacrifices of this man in response to his faith. Rather we meet him just as he is. While others are still reverberating from the aftershock of the crucifixion, this man takes it upon himself to care for the body. We find him, on Holy Saturday, ready to receive the salvation of the cross, expectantly awaiting the Kingdom.
This inspirational word was brought to you by Ben Wright of Grace & Main Fellowship.