Time to Step Up

It’s Good Friday–a somewhat odd designation of the day on which Jesus was crucified. On one hand, the results of this and the days immediately succeeding were very good indeed; on the other hand, the spectacle of a crucifixion is the farthest image from “good” that one can imagine. Mel Gibson, for all his personal flaws, made certain that we would never think of the cross without its horrendous, unspeakable cruelty and pain. But today’s text focuses on the end of the day, assuming we are all familiar with what occurred in its central hours. John 19:38-42:

38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

An interesting character, this Nicodemus. He wanted to know what Jesus was all about (John 3); he defended the right to be heard (7:46-53). And he was a witness to the crucifixion, watching and pondering all that he had seen and heard, both from Jesus and from his antagonists. Now he came with Joseph, perhaps a friend of significant means, to request the body of Jesus in order to give a proper burial. When all was said and done, he had made a choice. And though we read no further, it was almost certainly the sort of choice which changed his relationship with his colleagues on the council for irreversibly. He stepped up to do the right thing and declared his belief in the Messiah in the process.

Nicodemus is perhaps the paradigm of those who have taken the care to contemplate the evidence on its own merits, rather than accepting the judgment of others whose vested interests outweighed the need for any such consideration. C. S. Lewis comes also to mind, though he did not begin from the insider vantage point from which Nicodemus viewed the evidence. Yet the bottom line for both of these men is the same as it is for any who will look at the facts of Jesus on a cross and ask what the best explanation might be. Why is he there? What had he done to land in the place of the politically dangerous and violent, the vile and the despised who had been nailed to crosses by a sadistic and calculating Roman system?

Nicodemus came as one familiar with the inner workings and reasonings of the council which planned the demise of Jesus. He more than perhaps anyone was aware of the real story behind the plot his colleagues had been persuaded into executing. He knew their hearts; he knew who Jesus claimed to be; he drew the conclusion. And when the time came for him to step up and be counted among the followers of Jesus, he was more readily found than even the closest of Jesus’ friends.

Many of us sit among the scoffers, the scornful; we hear their supposed reasons for dismissing Jesus. Today we are especially reminded to look at the cross and compare this Christ to the rantings and self-serving caricatures of Jesus coming from his detractors. We may even be in places where we listen in on the plots to do away with him, or at least with his words or his risen presence among his followers. When we look at him on the cross, will we step up and claim his body? Could there be a meaning here of a church, his lifeless body, awaiting resurrection?