Good Friday Witness Joseph of Arimathea by Sara Sosa, pastor at Plymouth Covenant Church in Plymouth, MN
My life is at risk. All that I have worked for, trained for, since a child is in the balance. Yet I cannot hide in the shadows any longer. I have been witness to the most heinous crime. No, not witness...participant. As a young Jewish scholar, never would I have imagined the word of the Lord to be so misused, so totally ignored. As I stand on this hill and watch the man I have come to believe is the Son of God struggle for his last breaths, I find my feet carefully stepping away from my colleagues. What was once a prestigious title for me...the culmination of all that my father wanted for me...tastes sour to me. I wish I could spit it out.
My eyes stay focused on the cross though I know that the rest of the leaders from the synagogue are preparing to leave. Their smugness rankles. I hear their pride, remember the insults they spat at him just hours earlier. My voice did not join theirs, but I am guilty by association. I want to rip this robe from my body. I am miserable. The man who was to be the savior of the world is close, oh so close, to death. He can save no one now. And I don’t feel worthy of being saved.
There was a time, not too long ago, when I felt free. I felt on top of the world. I was respected. Important. People listened to my wise words and acted on them. I interpreted scripture for use in disputes...I interpreted the law. I enjoyed the benefits of my upbringing and studies. My knowledge of God’s word was complete...nearly every word committed to memory. I was someone to be emulated. I looked good to the public eye. But I know now that it was a farce. I was nothing more than an empty shell, going through the motions that I had been taught, but not really engaging my faith.
Then my path crossed with Jesus. That encounter wrecked me for the job that I had come to love. Suddenly, the law that I had worked so hard to uphold didn’t seem as important as mercy. Jesus taught me the power of love, of forgiveness, of walking in his footsteps. Still, I couldn’t walk away from my life. I still haven’t walked away. I am so at war with myself as I stare at the cross. The rest of the members of the Sanhedrin are leaving. They are unnerved by the increasing darkness in the middle of the day. I can feel that it means something, too. I should go. But my feet stay.
I see Jesus raise his head and speak to his mother. Selfishly, I wish he would speak to me. I need him to speak to me. I have failed in the worst way. I wish I were on that cross. I won’t look away. It is so hard to watch, but it is the only way I can punish myself. I didn’t speak for him when I could have. I didn’t stop the injustice that nailed him where he is. I am a coward. My feet keep me rooted where I am.
Then he looks at me and I am astonished to receive what he has to give. He does not see me as he should. He does not see me the way I do. Instead he offers compassion. Mercy. Grace. Forgiveness. One by one, they roll over me, washing me from head to toe. His love makes me better than I really am. My knees buckle under the comprehension that Jesus sees me as I want to be...his follower.
I stumble forward and catch myself in time to see him look to the sky and say “It is finished.” The truth of those words press into me. It really is finished. I thought I knew what freedom was, but what I experience now is so much more. It is finished. My betrayal of him is over. My guilt lifted. My shame silenced. My emptiness filled. My identity recreated. I am his follower. I do not need to live the lie that has been my life.
Tears are streaming down my face. I realize that Jesus has died and in his death I have been given life. I know now what I will do to thank him. I will go to Pilate. I will ask for the privilege of removing Jesus’ body from the cross and preparing it for burial. New life is coursing through my veins. I look across the crowd gathered and find there is one other who stands as I do...in awe of this collision of heaven and earth...Nicodemus. He looks at me and nods. I know I am not alone. He will join me as we honor the body of the one we took too long to serve.
But I serve him now. I am Joseph of Arimathea. I am a follower of Jesus.
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