Matthew 27:57-66 or John 19:38-42
In my “minds-eye” I see my place of worship stripped bare of the colors that traditionally adorn the Sanctuary. No paraments, no flowers, no books, no brass, only bare wood. Wood bearing the marks of its age and reminding me of my own advancing years and finitude. My eye travels to the darkened sanctuary light and drifts below to see the open door and the vacant space within the tabernacle. In the pit of my stomach I feel an aching and my eyes well up as I hold back a tear. I wonder, “Has my Lord really left the building? “
The Gospel reading for today describes Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus imploring Pilate to release Jesus’ body to them. They take Jesus’ bodily remains and tend them according to Jewish custom. They wash His naked body and as they wrap Him in the burial cloth the room is filled with the reminder of death as they inhale the scent coming from the herbs they place within the shroud. I wonder if they too had thoughts of their own finitude? Pressed by time, they lay Jesus in an unused tomb quickly so as not to be about this work on the Day of Preparation.
We do not know much about the personal relationship Jesus had with these two men. Much of what has been preserved in scripture is centered on Jesus’ interaction with the Apostles. Their absence from this most intimate scene raises the questions, “Is there a way for us, on this Holy Saturday to empathize with their sense of loss, their sense of defeat, their inability to make meaning of all they have just experienced? Would we be in hiding or would we be brave enough to go to Pilate?”
Today, as a post -resurrection people, I think that it is important to take time to contemplate, and to try and empathize as much as we are able, with the affective response that likely was felt by Jesus’ closet followers. Contemplating Jesus being absent from our community will serve to point to the importance of His real presence. Let this be our day of preparation for the coming celebration of Jesus’ victory.
The Rev. Peter W. Nielsen, III
Deacon, Northeast Mission Area Council
Executive Director, Cedar Hills Camp and Conference Center