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When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, “He has been raised from the dead”, and the last deception would be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.’ So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.
… Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb …
Over the last year people have had to find a new way of marking the end of the earthly life of loved ones. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic funerals were often very big events with many people gathering to remember a person who had been dear to them in some way. In recent years the size of funeral congregations has grown ever larger, with greater expectations of the ‘party’ that followed the service and committal. As the scale of funerals has increased, so has the expectation that the funeral will be nothing more than a ‘celebration’ of the life that has ended. Many have made themselves fit into this new pattern when all they have really wanted to do is to cry and to say goodbye. And that is where we are today.
Jesus is dead. Jesus was betrayed, denied, condemned, mocked, and executed. If it had not been for the timely intervention and generosity of Joseph of Arimathea his body would have been left hanging on the cross. But Joseph and the two faithful women wanted to lay Jesus’ broken body to rest in a decent and reverent way. As far as Pilate was concerned the job was done; he could find no reason to prevent the body being taken down and buried. But, this was not a time for celebration … this was a time of loss and sorrow. This was not the moment to eat the equivalent of sandwiches and cake, but the time to weep with those terrible words, It is finished, still ringing out loud and clear.
In our reading there is a glimmer of hope, though. We are privileged to be able to look back two thousand years and recall that the desolation of this day will be short-lived. This was not the case for Jesus’ faithful followers. But … the religious leaders who had been instrumental in orchestrating Jesus’ execution did recall talk of resurrection, and they were fearful. They warned of impostors and subterfuge, but we must wonder whether, in the backs of their minds, they realized what might be about to happen. After all, they are the ones who had studied the ancient prophecies for many years.
The death of someone dear to us is always a moment of tragedy, but this death was different. On this Holy Saturday the tragedy will soon come to an end and the truth of Jesus’ resurrection will dawn on the world. Soon will come the night of new beginnings, the night when death and sin will be conquered by the rising again of Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Saviour of the world, the risen and conquering Son of God.
Let us give thanks for that moment today and every day.