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Stepping out of the shadows

Jesus has been crucified.  If burial is left up to the Romans, it won’t be a good thing.  Since crucifixion was the penalty for insurrection, sometimes the bodies of rebels were left hanging on the cross to be food for the birds of prey.  Since Jesus’ crucifixion takes place at Passover and there’s hardly anything more unclean to a Jewish person than a dead body, Pilate won’t leave any of the bodies on their crosses so as to needlessly offend the pilgrims present at Jerusalem for the feast.  That means that burial in a common, shallow grave is what awaits Jesus if someone doesn’t step in.

Intervention comes from an unlikely source.  It’s not who we would expect—Jesus’ apostles.  Those who have been closest to Him don’t seek His body because the events of the last twenty-four hours have understandingly left them afraid of being identified as disciples of Jesus.  Instead, two who have followed Him in secret due to fear, now go public and claim His body.

It’s a courageous crossing of the Rubicon for Joseph and Nicodemus.  Their previous actions have doubtlessly put them under suspicion in the eyes of some (John 7:50-52Luke 23:50-51), but this will remove all doubt.  By going to Pilate, Joseph has rung the bell loudly. 

We’re not told what’s going on in the hearts and minds of these two disciples but my take is something like this: We played it safe and tried not alienate anyone.  Where did this strategy get us?  We were powerless in stopping our people from murdering Jesus and even more impotent in standing up as His disciples.  We were so concerned about staying safe. Now He’s dead and we have blood on our hands.  We don’t care what happens to us anymore.  We’re finishing with following in the shadows and it starts with providing Jesus with the burial He deserves.

It’s a powerful decision when you think about it.  If Jesus is buried in a common grave it will bring an element of murkiness into the resurrection.  The grave won’t be empty, there will be at least two other bodies buried in it.  Maybe the body was dragged off by animals (as John Dominic Crossan claims).  Instead, Jesus’ body is placed in a new tomb, secured by a large stone, and sealed and guarded by the Romans.  If that tomb turns up empty, then it’s pretty hard to conclude that something miraculous didn’t happen (though people still try).

But I don’t think any of that was going through their minds as they take Jesus’ body down from the cross, carry it to the tomb, and prepare it for burial.  As they bathe His body, and wrap it in cloth saturated with myrrh and aloes (John 19:40), I see the scene as the counterpart to Mary’s actions in anointing the feet of Jesus (18:1-8).  It is an act of devotion, giving to Jesus in His death what they had withheld during His life. 

In what way do we need to step out of the shadows?

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