Sermon for Easter Eve - Matthew 27:57-66
We have been taught for much of our lives as Christians that Jesus is one who is preferential towards the poor. That his time was one consumed with the poor, the lost, the broken, the in-need, and yet here at his greatest time of need comes Joseph of Arimathea. Not a poor man, but a rich man. Not the least, but one of the greatest. A member of the ruling council, the Sanhedrin. He was a secret disciple of Jesus (just like Nicodemus) and opposed the trial, the verdict, the execution of Christ. With Jesus dead he comes as who he is, with the prestige and power he has, willing to risk it all to retrieve the body of the Lord. Wealth not being a hindrance to the work of Christ. The wealthy not being ones who have no need for Jesus, but ones who have the very same needs, the very same sins, will die the very same death, and here is Joseph being able to use what has been given to him for the one who gave it to him.
Imagine that God in his providence brings into the world this Joseph to be a wealthy man that he might afford to bury the Savior of the world. Afford to own a family tomb to have a place for Jesus. To afford the linen and spices. To afford the possible bribes to pay the authorities to get the body back. To think that for each one of us, as we wait here, lingering this night of Holy Saturday, with our Jesus in the tomb, that we too, with all we have been given can be used for the Lord. Spent for Christ.
Joseph, as that secret disciple, also discovers that the death of Christ brings secrets into the open. Where Joseph could have easily stayed home. Had no part or place, yet the death of Christ became something worth risking his very being. As disciples ourselves, I think of those who have left the comforts of the West to be missionaries in far off places, or to give up the life they had in one culture and turning to the hard life of the Gospel. Banished from their tribe or people. Where the death of Christ for you becomes something that leads you to a truth the sends you out from the secret places into the world at large to serve and to lead.
For Joseph his dedication to Christ, even in secret, was such that he had to take the body. He would have been ceremonially unclean for a week after doing so, just touching the body, but he did it anyways. He did not care. Bodies being these unclean things, and yet this Body of Jesus being worth the dirtying of the flesh for the sake of the work. Touching the Savior. Cleaning up his body. Wrapping it carefully in cloth. An image of us as disciples. Clinging to that Jesus at all costs. Taking hold of him who was broken for your brokenness. To know that any loss is worth the gain of Christ.
Taking the body, Joseph places it in a new tomb. Not an old tomb. One which Joseph dug himself. A place where his whole family was going to be buried. In a sense placing Jesus in Joseph’s death. Giving Jesus a place in Joseph’s family. As part of his life. So too we, taking our Jesus, bloodied and dead, laid in the tomb of our souls that we might arise with him that third day. Paul says it – For I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives within me. All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. Therefore, we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life.
Joseph even places the stone over the entrance. Wanting to protect Jesus from robbers. In a sense from sinners. As though saying, “Jesus. Stay. Be only mine.” Yet he won’t be. He can’t be. Not for long. Even Pilate gets it – Go and make it as secure as you can, he says. Jesus body lays dormant in a prison of death but will soon spring to life for Joseph and for you.
At Easter we are so quick to move from Good Friday to the resurrection. When I was on my hospital rotation as a chaplain for a year, my supervisor, Mark Mallinger, said something very interesting – Don’t be so quick to move to the resurrection. He wasn’t wanting us to deny the hope of Christ, or remove the truth of new life, but that it does mean that we need to have that time where Christ is dying and dead. Where he is sitting in the tomb right now, and death thinks it has won. Satan having a parade. Our sin going on as usual. Allowing room for the mourning of our hearts. For the hardship of thinking all is lost. Then the resurrection becomes the truest truth that could ever be told. The greatest news to grace our ears. For tonight is where we have it, this night in the tomb, between death and life. A symbol for us of our pilgrimage here. That we do struggle and fight sin, try to outrun death, stay ahead of the Jones’. Seeing the hardship of it all. But being handed a gift like our baptism. Buried with Christ. Knowing each day we must be raised again from our sin to live for him. So tomorrow when we hear – he is risen, it will mean that much more. Come Lord Jesus. Amen.