Day 45: John 19:38-42
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
John 19:38-42 (NRSV)
The Gospel writer of John makes sure to remind us of the intimate connection between Jesus and Nicodemus, referencing this character in three different scenes of his Gospel. He tells us about Nicodemus risking ridicule from his friends to come closer and get to know the rabbi whose teaching was radical and opposed the status quo. John reminds us that there were few faithful followers that surrounded Jesus at his death. Following Jesus was risky - especially at this point in the story. Despite the seeming hopelessness of the situation, however, Nicodemus had seen something in Jesus that demanded his reverence and fidelity. Although Nicodemus did not have answers, he had experienced the Truth in human form. I wonder if Nicodemus felt the weight of guilt as he took down Jesus’ body from the cross. What if he would have said something more? Perhaps he could have stood up against the mob that seemed so resolved to crucify this humble man. Maybe the religious leaders would not have acted so harshly…
Michelangelo, the great Renaissance artist, self-identified with Nicodemus more than any other figure in scripture. His piece, The Deposition, portraying Jesus’ mother Mary and Nicodemus taking Jesus’ limp body down from the cross, is a sculpture that Michelangelo intended to be placed at his own tomb. Michelangelo was a man who asked many questions but was not confident of his own salvation. He was unsure of the role that he played in the salvation drama of the universe, and thus identified with Nicodemus.
On a day when we remember the darkest day in history, might we also be faithful and reverent. Let us remember that we played no small part in the death of God on this day. We do not have the answers for the guilt or mystery that we feel on this day. Only sadness and solidarity.
Jonathan Burkey, Pastor of Worship Arts