Witness at the Cross: the Unexpected
April 2, 2023
SCRIPTURE READING Mark 15:42-46 Sandy Gray
42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath,43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead, and summoning the centurion he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. 45 When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Then Joseph[a] bought a linen cloth and, taking down the body,[b] wrapped it in the linen cloth and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.
Leader: The Word of God that is still speaking.
PEOPLE: Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE: Witness at the Cross: the Unexpected – Joseph of Arimathea Pastor Donna Goltry
Today we look again at the different people who were found at the cross when Jesus was crucified. We are drawing our inspiration from a book authored by Amy-Jill Levine, Witness at the Cross: a Beginner’s Guide to Holy Friday, that has been the basis of a Lenten study at St. Paul’s. Who were the people found at the cross when Jesus was crucified?
Bystanders & scoffers: At the cross of Jesus, bystanders and scoffers taunted him. How sad to scoff at someone suffering. How tragic they failed to see the true measure of Jesus. But, how easy it is to fall into this trap – scoffing at another’s misery, failing to recognize truth right in front of us.
The other victims: Jesus was flanked by bandits crucified alongside him. The one on the left hoped Jesus would save him from death by miraculously getting him down from the cross. What irony – Jesus had the power to save him from another kind of death and give him eternal life, but the bandit didn’t understand. The one on Jesus’ right understood. He realized Jesus was the messiah and asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom.
The Centurion: As the centurion oversaw Jesus’ crucifixion, he came to understand. He said, surely Jesus was God’s son. How ironic that an outsider, a Roman officer, became the first one to say so.
The beloved disciple: This beloved disciple and Jesus’ mother were both at the foot of the cross. Jesus told them to look at one another. Then Jesus asked the beloved disciple to take his mother into his home and care for her. It was the seminal step in creating a beloved community among Jesus’ followers – both those who followed him during his life and those who follow the way of Jesus even still today. And the beloved community remains one of the sweetest ways to describe a congregation of believers.
Other women and disciples were at the cross as well. We will meet these women and disciples next Sunday as we hear the Easter story. But for today, imagine them at the cross, experiencing the heartbreak of watching him upon the cross.
And then there was the unexpected Joseph of Arimethea at the cross, asking for Jesus body to give it a proper burial. Why was he there? What do we know about him? What gave him the nerve to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body, a bold ask and possibly a dangerous one.
Here’s what Mark’s gospel tells us about Joseph. He was expectantly waiting for the kingdom of God and did not agree with the council’s plan to get rid of Jesus. Did he make the connection that Jesus was the bringer of the kingdom of God? Perhaps. And, he must have had power or Pilate would not have listened to him.
In Matthew’s gospel, he is said to be rich, righteous (meaning a devout Jew), and we find out he was a disciple of Jesus. John adds that he was a secret disciple of Jesus, and he had a helper, Nicodemus, the same man who had come to Jesus under cover of darkness, trying to figure out the true measure of Jesus. Nicodemus is portrayed as being spiritually blind.
All agree he was wrapped in linen, laid in Joseph’s tomb hewn in the rocks, and the stone was rolled to seal the tomb.
Enough of the details. What does it mean for us? I’ll let you chew on that yourselves. But a few questions:
When are we secret followers?
Or come under cover of night?
What does it mean when we step out of the dark and publicly proclaim Jesus? These are the real questions the unexpected visitor, Joseph of Arimathea, and his helper, Nicodemus.
Perhaps we are seeing an answer to that in today’s worship as we initiate new folks as full members today of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, becoming part of our beloved community. As they are bold to step forward, will you be bold in your faith too? Will their boldness give us new strength! I certainly hope so.
And may our deeper dive during the season of Lent into greater understanding of those who were at the cross with Jesus help us appreciate its meaning and lead us on a closer walk with Jesus today. Amen.
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