What thoughts slogged through their minds as the two men carefully lowered Jesus’ battered body from the bloody cross?
Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple of Jesus, though secretly because he feared reprisal from the Jewish authorities. So it demanded great courage—perhaps as a final act of open devotion he wished now he had taken before—to approach the Roman governor, Pilate, and ask permission to remove Jesus’ body. Thus, Joseph came, grieving and guilty, for this final act of love.
Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, came also. He had first approached Jesus at night, sure that this miracle-working teacher was from God. Now, on Golgotha’s hill, he neared the lifeless body of the one who had spoken mysteriously of a second birth by the Spirit. If only the Spirit would come now! With him, Nicodemus dragged a hundred pounds of burial myrrh and aloes.
Joseph pulled a soldier’s ladder across the hard ground and leaned it on the cross beam. Nicodemus found another and did the same on the beam’s other end. They secured Jesus’ body to the cross with a rope, then set about prying the spikes to set his hands free. His arms dropped harshly to his sides and his body sagged in death; but the rope held. They wondered how agonizing his pain had been—not knowing the world’s sin had weighed infinitely more.
By the time they’d released his nailed feet, their tears fell freely. How could men treat another man so cruelly? How could the Redeemer—or so they had thought—be imprisoned by nails to die? What might Pilate do now that he knew they were his followers? What would happen to their dreams that had died with him?
By the time they were hoisting Jesus’ body down from the cross, clouds scurried over the horizon and blotted out the setting sun. They recalled the earlier eerie darkness. His cry—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—echoed again in their minds. The men were sweating, but chills ran down their spines–as if they stood on ground desecrated by mankind’s sin and sanctified by God’s judgment.
A garden lay nearby. In it awaited a new tomb in which no one had been laid. The men’s arms ached as their feet plodded with the full weight of their master’s body. Heavier were their hearts.
Weeping was no more, replaced by a sadness that ran more deeply than tears. They were determined to offer an act of love, as much as possible a burial fit for a king who had welcomed outcasts, forgave sinners, healed the sick, raised the already dead.
With hearts as dark as the approaching night, they tenderly washed his wounds, wishing with each stroke, they, like him, could heal them. They applied the burial spices and wrapped his body in burial cloth. He was prepared now. But the men hesitated, dreading the final act. Jesus had to be buried before sundown, but they delayed, hoping life lay hidden and he would awake.
But now, prodded by the disappearing sun, they bore his body inside the tomb. Tears returned as they laid him in place. Again they stilled, wanting to beg forgiveness for their fear, longing to express their undying devotion, though afraid to speak and ignorant of words.
Silently, then, they bent under the low entrance and stepped outside. They must secure his tomb, protect his body, seal it as holy;but both dreaded closing him off to the realm of the dead. Finally, both strode at once. Grabbing the stone, they rolled it in place, sealing in their Lord to the death they loathed.
Quickly then, as quick as sorrow would allow, they turned and trod away. Joseph and Nicodemus. Two secret disciples who’d at the last openly proclaimed devotion. Whose minds raced with nothing and with everything. What, they feared, would happen now?
With the tomb fading behind, it was late Friday. Sabbath was about to begin. But could any day be the same again now that their master–and their hope–lay buried in the tomb?