I’m not good with the crucifixion. I read and write all around it, but I struggle with the actual event. I’ve never even seen The Passion of the Christ. Last summer, however, God gave me this perspective, and I managed to get the words down. So for Good Friday this year, I offer this repost of a biblical fiction piece based on John 19:38-42 (and the other gospels).
“Get me an audience with Pilate. Now.” Joseph’s servant nodded and stepped away, soon lost in the dispersing crowd, but Joseph couldn’t move. He tried not to think about the twelve-year-old who had amazed him in the temple more than two decades earlier. He tried not to list the many who had been healed in the last three years. He forced himself to breathe again and steadied his hands.
Now for his eyes. They hadn’t left Jesus since a centurion thrust that spear into Jesus’ side. Look away, Joseph. You have to look away. You have to take care of this, even if He isn’t what you anticipated. Jesus deserves that much.
First, he blinked three times. Then, with effort, he pulled his eyes slowly down and to the right, across the thief still laboring for breath, across the helmets of the Roman soldiers, and into the crowd. He wasn’t the only one unable to look away, unable to leave this hill. Some of the faces were familiar, but only one caught his gaze and returned it—an out-of-place face. It was someone else from the Sanhedrin.
Nicodemus wandered toward Joseph, dodging small groups of people. He was calm on the outside, but the flush of his face and the sadness of his eyes told Joseph he wasn’t alone in his grief. Of course! Nicodemus was the only one to stand up for Jesus when the Pharisees tried to arrest Him last year.
They had nothing in common
except the Council…and Jesus.
Nicodemus came alongside Joseph, and both men returned their gaze to the cross. They weren’t friends. In fact, they had nothing in common except the Council…and Jesus.
At first, neither spoke. Finally: “I’m going to ask for the body,” Joseph almost-whispered.
Nicodemus glanced at the sun, then at Joseph. They had about two hours before Sabbath began at sunset. Handing his money bag to his nearest servant, he said, “Go buy burial spices.”
“How much, sir?”
“As much as you can find. And make it quick.” The servant motioned to another, and the two strode toward town.
At the same time, Joseph saw his own servant returning. Still several yards away, he nodded affirmatively. Joseph stole a moment to look Nicodemus in the eye. “I’ll be back. Keep watch…and pray Pilate says ‘yes.’” Joseph didn’t wait for Nicodemus’ nod.
. . .
Soon everyone would know
of his allegiance to Jesus.
Joseph was back within half an hour, more confident than when he left. Soon all of Jerusalem would know he asked for Jesus’ body. Soon everyone would know of his allegiance. There was nothing left to hide.
Two heavy bags of myrrh and aloe stems fell at Nicodemus’ feet, the impact forcing their sweet scents into noses all around. Joseph and Nicodemus looked at each other and breathed deeply. Witnessing the crucifixion had been risky. Tending to the dead body was religious and social suicide.
Joseph approached the four guards at the foot of the cross. Humble and friendly—that was the way to approach Roman soldiers, but his smile disappeared and his voice stuck in his throat at seeing Jesus’ cloak in the pouch of one guard, his shirt in another’s. He swallowed hard when his eyes fell on the vinegar-soaked sponge they’d given Jesus to drink, now cast to the ground and coated with dirt. He stepped over the blood spatters that might be Jesus’ or might remain from a previous crucifixion.
The guards looked at him skeptically but cooperated when he finally found his voice and affirmed Pilate’s permission.
The cross clattered to the ground, stretching the nail holes in Jesus’ hands and feet. I thank you, God, that we do not feel pain after death. The guards were no gentler as they removed the nails and threw the crown of thorns to the side.
The lead soldier threw the
words at Joseph like moldy
bread thrown to a beggar.
“Take him.” The lead soldier threw the words at Joseph like moldy bread thrown to a beggar. Joseph wasn’t accustomed to such treatment, but it seemed insignificant compared to the condition of the body in front of him.
Joseph opened his mouth to call his servants. Passover was in a few hours, and touching Jesus’ dead body would make him ritually unclean, thus unable to enjoy the Passover feast with his family.
But no. He closed his mouth and looked at Nicodemus, who understood without words. Jesus deserved more than the impartial hands of servants commanded to work. He deserved their complete attention.
The two men spread out a linen sheet and lifted Jesus’ limp, naked body onto it. They folded one side over, then the ends, then the other side. Blood was already seeping through the bottom, but together they lifted His body in their arms. A few servants cleared the path in front of them. A few followed, carrying the bags of aloe and myrrh. A few lagged behind, wishing they weren’t identified with these two members of the Sanhedrin.
“Where are we going?” Nicodemus choked out the words, his voice thick with grief.
Now he knew why he’d
commissioned a tomb
“I have a new tomb near here. It’s only been finished for a few months.” Joseph pondered his decision of over a year previously. He had felt compelled to commission the tomb near Jerusalem even though he preferred his body returned to Arimathea for burial. Now he knew why.
The sunlight cast long shadows on the hillside. Time was short. Servants lit candles while Joseph and Nicodemus unfolded the sheet. They began at Jesus’ feet, wrapping strips of linen around his body, tucking nuggets of myrrh and sections of aloe as they went. They worked quickly and silently, only pausing when they reached his face. Nicodemus closed Jesus’ eyes gently. What happened between these two, Joseph thought, to make him care so much?
They stepped backward out of the tomb, servants rushing to follow. Joseph showed the servants how to close the tomb. It took every hand to get the stone rolling.
With a quick shudder the stone fell into place with Jesus’ body sealed inside. The scent of aloe and myrrh lingered in the air and on their hands.
A movement in the shadows caught Joseph’s eye. Two women watched as he and Nicodemus walked away.
Joseph and Nicodemus took a big risk in claiming Jesus’ body. Has God called you (now or in the past) to this kind of risk–the kind where you lose social capital or influence? I would love to hear your story (or something about Good Friday/Easter) in the comments below!
For further reading:
What’s So Good about Good Friday? Just some thoughts on “good,” and also WWII.
My Preponderance of Passion Week Posts There have been a few more additions since I posted this, but we’ll leave it for now.