Updated: Apr 12, 2020
Readings: Job 14: 4-14; 1 Peter 4: 1-8; John 19: 38-42 (Sermon Text)
Topic: The Account of Jesus’ Burial in the Gospel of John
Theme: The Significant Roles of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus in John’s Account of
by The Rev. Fr. Alvin Mendoza
April 11, 2020
Jesus’ Suffering, Death on the Cross, Burial and Resurrection Form part of
the Church’s Faith Confession
We give thanks to God our Father through His Son Jesus Christ for allowing us this wonderful opportunity to celebrate simultaneously from our different communities via livestreaming at this point in our Paschal Triduum notwithstanding the danger posed against our lives by COVID-19. To me, this experience of being able to celebrate or worship together simultaneously thru the use of modern technology especially in this difficult times clearly shows that nothing indeed can hinder or “separate us from the Love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. Amen.
That the Lord Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried and on the third day rose again, form part of the basic tenets of the Christian faith enshrined in the Apostle’s Creed as well as the Nicene Creed which we normally recite during our daily devotions and Eucharistic celebrations on Sundays respectively. Likewise, the same creedal statements are found in the 39 Articles of Religion as part of the magisterium of Churches in the Anglican Communion (as the case may be). The faith that we confess and the good news that we proclaim as we livestream for the commemoration of Jesus’ Suffering, Death on the Cross, Burial and Resurrection are absolutely held in “accordance with the Scriptures.”
II. The Roles of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus
Our gospel reading this morning recounts to us John’s story of Jesus’ burial immediately following the latter’s death on the cross. It is a story quite unique to John as compared with the common or shared story presented in the synoptic accounts. Notably, John’s account of Jesus’ burial is focused on the significant roles of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus whom he both described or implied to be: (one) secret disciples or perhaps, silent supporters of Jesus; (two) members of the Sanhedrin; (three) wealthy, well educated, respected and influential members of the society of their time; and, (four) apparent models of rebirth or persons who were supposed to have been born again on account of their encounter with Jesus.
Most biblical scholars agree that these men concealed their association with Jesus for fear of being ridiculed by fellow Jews. Joseph of Arimathea for example, may have considered it embarrassing if not outrightly shameful to be seen by fellow members of the Council in the company of Jesus who frequently mingles and even eats with tax collectors and sinners not to mention Jesus’ apparent negative reputation (at least to the Pharisees) as a “blasphemer,” “violator” of the Sabbath and a “transgressor” in Israel. Most likely on his part, Nicodemus opted to visit Jesus at night for similar reasons. No wonder, these gentlemen were “nowhere” to be found or perhaps chose to be absent the entire time while Jesus was facing trial by the Sanhedrin. Be that as it may, it is equally interesting to note how Jesus’ death on the cross eventually drew these apparent closet disciples even more closer to him and consequently changed their perspectives in the process.
Being members of the council, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are pretty much aware that the Jewish customary law is very specific concerning the body of someone who has been crucified, not to be left hanging on the cross overnight, etc. They knew also that Jesus’ body must be removed and prepared for burial asap since the Sabbath is about to begin few hours following his death on the cross. Otherwise, the land would be compromised or desecrated according to Deuteronomy 21: 22-23. But who shall take the responsibility? All but one of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples have already fled earlier for fear of their lives. And the few women who were there from the very beginning were simply caught unprepared for the situation. Given this scenario Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus knew right away that they had to act quickly. They must take the Lord’s body and lay it down to its resting place. (If they don’t who else will?)
John tells us that Joseph of Arimathea succeeded in seeking Pilate’s permission to take Jesus’ body for burial and after removing Jesus body from the cross, Nicodemus also came with a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds, and together they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in linen cloths according to the burial custom of the Jews (19: 38-40). Additionally, John also reveals that Jesus was eventually laid down to rest in a new tomb (apparently owned by Joseph of Arimathea himself) located in the garden in the same place where Jesus was crucified (19: 40-41).
The roles of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus over Jesus’ burial are worth noting here:
1. With courage and strong determination inspired by their love of Jesus they were
able to overcome their fears. Joseph knew it was not easy to get Pilate’s permission
to take Jesus’ body without running the risk of losing his life. Under Roman rule,
bodies of those who have been crucified are normally left on their crosses to be torn
to pieces by animals and birds. Joseph’s wealth and strong influence may just have
won him his purpose. Like Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus also threw his fears aside
at the death of Jesus and openly assisted him in burying Jesus. His new found faith
must have given him the courage to face the consequences of following Jesus and
spend a relatively handsome amount so as to give Jesus a burial worthy of a royalty.
2. The linen cloths (bought by Joseph of Arimathea) coupled with a mixture of
myrrh and aloes weighing 100 pounds (brought by Nicodemus) bespeak of the kind
of burial afforded to a king. One can just imagine how meaningful such a gesture that
was be passed on to the Christian generations.
3. The location of the new tomb upon which Jesus’ body was laid is said to be a
garden in the same place where the crucifixion took place. Some Biblical experts
see the mention of a garden for Jesus’ entombment a veiled reference to
the Garden of Genesis where the first humans were created in God’s image and where
sin entered into human affairs. Thus, while the fall of Adam took place in a garden,
the second Adam (Jesus) freed us from the results of Adam’s sin also in a garden.
III. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea: Apparent Models of Rebirth?
In conclusion, I would like to think that the story of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus viewed thru the lens of John’s account of Jesus’ burial serve as concrete model of rebirth into a new life in Christ, or, if I may, concrete models of being born again. I say this not because I am assuming their baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ, but because of the fact that they were drawn together to be born again by and through the transforming power of Jesus’ death on the cross. John tells us for example of their transformation from being fearsome to persons of resolute courage and conviction in order to give Jesus an acceptable burial; from being a closet disciple to a true disciple willing to lose their friends, position and even willing to risk their very lives for the sake of Christ. Can we probably say the same thing to the thief whom Jesus promised to be with him in paradise? Or, to Mary whom Jesus told to behold her son? What about the beloved disciple whom Jesus asked to behold his mother? I can only surmise… One thing is fairly certain though- Jesus hope to draw all men to himself when he is lifted up (crucified) has come true with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. The same thing is coming true I believe, even to us today every time we gather to proclaim Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection in the breaking of the bread and prayer. There is one more thing necessary to complete the picture though. And that is to look forward to the resurrection as a culmination as well as vindication of all the things that we have come to confess ad proclaim for the whole duration of our Holy Week Celebration.
In the Name of God the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.