Dead.

A reflection for Good Friday on What Darkness Brings To Light

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 him permission; so he came and removed his body. 

Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a 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. 

John 19:38-42

Our Gospel reading today puts us at the very end of the crucifixion story.

We are unable to marvel at Christ’s compassion as he pleads with the Father to forgive those who have treated him so unjustly, so horrendously. We cannot cheer for the criminal who sticks up for Jesus and so earns himself a place in Paradise. We are not moved by the agony of God-with-us thirsting, breathing shallower and shallower, questioning why he has been forsaken.

For he is dead.

The spectacle is over.

And the crowd is hurrying back to their homes because it is nearly Passover and there are preparations to be made: houses to be tidied, meals to be prepared, tables to be set.

But isn’t that always the case with death? The rub, the salt in the wound; the final, unbearable agony on to of the already excruciating loss? How quickly life moves on ….

The flowers fade. The cards and calls stop coming. The last lasagne or chicken-pot-pie comes out of the freezer, is defrosted, and eaten. People get busy and conversations become awkward as you get the sense from what is not said that you should be moving on; when, really, its as a result of the guilt that they feel for not being there for you as they had intended that makes others unable to look you in the eye.

So you keep yourself busy – through the first Christmas, first birthday, first anniversary. But you realise just how many firsts there actually are: the first holiday that you don’t take your usual camping trip, the first time you sit down at your favourite coffee shop alone, the first time something funny happens and you start telling it to someone who’s no longer there ….

So you’re stuck, as the firsts turns to seconds or thirds and the loss really doesn’t get much easier and you discover that a wave of tired can overwhelm you for no particular reason at all.

Death is final. Irrevocable. And – for those who loved its victim with all their heart – changes life completely.

Our Gospel reading today puts us at the very end of the crucifixion story.

Christ is dead – and with him, the hope of the world.

The spectacle is over.

And the crowd is hurrying away from the darkness of it all in case some taint should linger and be carried home with them.

And yet, it is in the darkest place that something quite unexpected, quite amazing happens.

In the absence of Jesus’s male disciples, two other men step up to deal with Jesus’s body: Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man and a member of the Jewish ruling council, who had vehemently opposed the decision to have Christ crucified; and Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the rabbinic tribunal who we remember for that very confusing conversation about needing to be born again in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Both were secret disciples. As members of the religious and political parties that shared power with their Roman rules, both stood to lose much by aligning themselves with the crucified King of the Jews:

  • their position,
  • their standing in the community,
  • their creature comforts,
  • their freedom,
  • and, maybe even their lives.

But in the gravest of moments, at the darkest of times, when everyone else had abandoned the lifeless, useless, blood-stained body of Jesus and just a small handful of weeping women stood watch over it from a distance, wondering what to do next in the face of such an unexpected, unjust, tragic death – Joseph and Nicodemus declare their love publicly and practically as they petition Pilate for Jesus’s body, prepare it for burial with a lavish amount of myrrh and sandalwood, and lay it (as Isaiah had prophesied) in a rich man’s tomb. Tradition suggests that this may even have been Joseph of Arimathea’s own tomb – freshly hewn into the cliff of a nearby, private garden.

Through the darkness shines
their courage,
their generosity,
their faith,
their love,
their commitment.

Yet I can’t help but wonder if they would ever have identified themselves as followers of Jesus if the story had not ended in this exact way. Without the darkness, would their relationship with Jesus ever have come to light? Without the tragedy and injustice of such a death, would the world have been prepared for Sunday’s truth: that Christ has come to life?

Today, our Gospel reading puts us at the very end of the crucifixion story.

Christ is dead.

The spectacle is over.

The dreams of his disciples lie in rubble and ruin.

And the crowd is hurrying back to their homes …

… homes which are lonely and quiet because there is no one else left in the family …

… homes which are fearful and bleak because daddy is a mean drunk or mommy’s new boyfriend is looking at me in an inappropriate way …

… homes which are filthy or bare because there’s not enough time or not enough money …

… homes which are cold and uncomfortable because there’s no love left there anymore …

… homes which are prison for the very old, the very ill, the very depressed …

… homes which aren’t really homes, just a rough, warm spot somewhere out of the wind and the rain ….

This Good Friday, as we encounter the courage, the generosity, the faith, the love, and the commitment of Joseph and Nicodemus in a place of darkness and despair – the place of Death – I wonder what their story may bring to light in our own lives and in our own understanding of what true discipleship might require in this dark world
into which Jesus came,
and suffered on the cross,
and died.

Who will carry the light in the darkness?

Prayer

Untiring God,
Your love pursues us:
there is no place in heaven or earth or under the earth
where we can hide from You.

Gather us up in Your arms 
– gently, for some of us are bruised, and broken, and bleeding.
Dispel the shadow of death,
the despair that engulfs us, 
with the bright dawn of Your life.

Look upon us with unconditional grace and mercy;
lead us, slowly, in our yearning
for redemption and a brand new day.

Give us patient faith in times of confusion,
strength to meet hard times to come,
and courage to place our hearts, our lives, our spirits,
into Your hands,
confident in the day
when every word will be spoken in kindness,
every tear shed for joy,
every home a safe haven,
and every ending just another beginning
as the first-light comes
with the blessing of Your own face shining upon us.

Amen.

Day Twenty Two: Home

2 Samuel 7:1-11,16
Luke 1:46b-55
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

This year was a tumultuous one for my family and I as we sold the house that we had dreamed of, built, and lived in for fifteen years; packed a lifetime of memories into 52 boxes; and immigrated to an unfamiliar land with the hope and the promise that God would go ahead to prepare a place for us ….

In the midst of all the uncertainty and anxiety lay this grace: that we had a home to go to, a place of our own where we would be sheltered and safe while jobs, schools, church, furnishing etc. slowly fell into place.

Home. Our home. From the moment we inserted the key in the lock and opened up a welcome space, all of the unfamiliarities and inconveniences and heartaches suddenly seemed manageable.

Home.

King David had found one in the conquered city of Jerusalem. All settled in, he was suddenly conscious of the fact that while he enjoyed the comfort and protection of his cedar house, the Spirit of the Lord had been residing in a plain tent since the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in the land of Egypt.

Yet even as he ponders building a dignified sanctuary for the Lord, God declares:

“ I shall build you a house.
I who took you from leading sheep to leading my people,
who raised you from a humble shepherd to a conquering king;
I who have been with you and gone before
and granted you victory after victory over your enemies –
I will appoint a place for my people
and ensure that your family and your royal kingdom are permanently ensured”
(2 Samuel 7:11-16, paraphrased).

Home.

A home worthy for a king: the King of Creation, our Prince of Peace.

And so God sent the angel Gabriel to a small village called Nazareth, in Galilee, to a young virgin named Mary who was engaged to be married to a man from David’s line.

And Gabriel appeared to her and said:

“Good morning!
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you,”
(Luke 1:28, The Message).

Mary was perplexed – and probably more than a little shaken – to receive such a greeting from this divine messenger.

As we may well be when we realise that God does not want to be housed in an ornate temple that we visit on sacred days or even relegated to the mysterious heights of heavens …

but God chooses to make God’s home with and within us.

God is with us:
settled into the ordinary and the everyday of our routines,
present  for our wonderings and our worryings,
sitting in on our questions and our conversations,
welcoming the visitors to our door
and walking with us through the neighbourhood …

… God is home

… we remember and we celebrate – particularly this night.

Light a candle or leave a light on this night as a symbol of welcome and invitation to God who longs to make home with you.

Day Thirteen: On Track

Psalm 126
Habakkuk 3:2-6
Philippians 3:12-16

Here’s a fact that might stop you dead in your tracks: there are over thirty idioms containing the word “track” (I got side-tracked at thirty so I know there are more than that).

Being from the right side or the wrong side of the tracks doesn’t seem to matter to anyone anymore as long as you are on the fast track back to the right track, or is that the inside track …? I lose track … so let me double back and put you on a more beaten track ….

Today’s text are all about the way we’ve chosen to walk in: the track we’ve taken.

From Psalm 126 which is a song of ascent – a pilgrimage or walking song that the people sang as they journeyed towards the temple of Jerusalem) …

… to Habakkuk’s prayer for God to traverse the old salvation route again put to music (on shigionoth – see chapter 3, verse 1) …

… to Paul’s cheer-leader-like exhortations to press on towards the goal and race to win the prize …

… there resounds through each passage a spirit of victory and energy, a call to keep moving onwards at a steady pace.

“Where are we headed?” you might wonder. “Are we there yet?” Donkey might add (if you don’t get the reference, put Shrek 2 down as a must-see movie).

“Home,” comes the answer.

Home.
Heavenwards.
Towards an eternity with God.

What is your instinctual response to these words? Your gut feeling?

Do you have a picture of what home, heaven, eternity will be like?

And this is the part where many of us back track or jump the track for fear that God might mistake our interest in home or heaven as a sure sign that we’re ready to enter into the eternal mystery that is life in and with and through God.

The truth, for most of us, is that we’re quite content to be living in the here and now – even though life is a little messy at times and the world can be an ugly place – with the idea of “eternity” being a one-day-in-the-future dream rather than the goal to which we’re off and running.

Home.
Heavenwards.
Eternity.

Even an eternity with God can be a terrifying concept for it is so intangible, so unquantifiable, so unknown to we who use sight and sound and taste and touch and smell and time to make sense of our world. Yet to know Christ and to walk with God is to willingly enter into an ancient, eternal way while others tremble and turn away (Habakkuk 3:7).

And entering into that way radically shifts our perspective:

… things that seem so pressing and important if life is as short as we think it is might lose their urgency as our sense of time expands …

…  the unknown mysteries that once terrified and confounded us become signposts to wonder and awe as we walk in faith rather than knowledge …

… death is neither end nor beginning but just another step in our deepening communion with the One who Made and Saves and Sustains us ….

Today, if you can sit with the discomfort, contemplate your mortality.

What songs would you want sung at your funeral? Who would attend? What would you be remembered for? Who would you worry most about?

What do you hope comes next?