Do you like funerals? Isn’t that the most ridiculous question you ever heard? No one likes funerals. Funerals are not supposed to be liked! They are painful times, sad times, inescapable times, necessary times, these bitter sweet moments when we say goodbye to people we love. And painful as funerals are, sometimes it is hard to bring yourself to walk away from the graveside.
As evening approached, a rich man came from the town of Arimathea. His name was Joseph. He had become a follower of Jesus. 58He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth. 60He placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb. Then he went away. 61Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there across from the tomb.
(Matthew 27:57-61 ESV)
Picture the small group of people who loved Jesus and were there watching as the soldiers carried out the crucifixion. They had watched him die, helpless to intervene, forced to see Rome’s might used by a Jewish council’s guile to remove the one they had followed and called Lord. And it was easy to see how politically dangerous it had become to follow Jesus; rulers were determined to kill him, religious teachers were filled with anger and the soldiers didn’t care if the sentence was wrong or right. So Joseph’s request for the body to be given to him for burial took some nerve; but nothing much can be done because it is almost the Sabbath and on the Sabbath, you don’t work. Joseph takes the body of Jesus and puts it in his own tomb. He seals it closed with a rock and he hurries away trying to beat gathering darkness and be away before the Sabbath began. The women stay at the grave and watch. They don’t want to leave. They don’t want to say goodbye, and they haven’t been able to say goodbye. Jesus has been out of reach for them. Two different reactions are shown here; Joseph has figured out what he can do, then he went out and did it and when he had done it, he left. The women are shut out of Joseph’s actions (and we don’t know why) and so they follow them to the grave, but they don’t leave right away. They wait and eventually they see what they can do for Jesus (prepare his body for burial properly, rather than hurriedly try to get it done before sundown starts the Sabbath Day. But they can’t anoint the body until after the Sabbath so they have a long wait until it is time to act. And I wonder how long they waited there as night fell. I wonder if they stayed until fatigue and emotional exhaustion forced them to go somewhere and sleep. I wonder how they passed the Sabbath Day; how could you worship under such conditions? Did they spend the day in prayer pleading for a different outcome? Did they just sit and weep inconsolable tears? I think we all have a bit of Joseph and a bit of Mary going on inside; sometimes we can cope by focusing on doing whatever thing we can actually do to help and sometimes there isn’t anything we can do but wait and hope that God’s path will become visible to us. But either way, I hope you can hold on to faith.
Lord give us strength to endure in times of mourning; patience to persist in good deeds under pressure and your Spirit to give us hope when we cannot see your hand at work.