"So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them, 'Greetings,' he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him." ~Matthew 28:8-9 Clasp his feet today. There is joy abundant waiting for you.
After Jesus' death on the cross, there was a question of what would happen with his body. Or, possibly, no one had thought too much about what would happen to it. Thus, Joseph of Arimathea enters the scene. We don't know a lot about him from the gospels, but we do get a few pieces of information about him. In Luke 23: 50-51, we learn that he was a good and upright man. He was a member of the Council but had not consented to their decision and action. He was from the Judean town of Arimathea and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. John 19:38 spins a different picture in that he was a secret disciple of Jesus because he feared the Jewish leaders. Whoever Joseph was, it appears that he was a disciple and that he wanted to play a role in the great mystery that had occurred and was occurring through Jesus' death. He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body. The gospels agree that it was a new tomb, where no one had been buried thus far. Matthew gives us a key piece of information. The tomb was Joseph's own tomb that he had cut out of the rock. Joseph had wrapped the body in linens and prepared it with spices. John clues us in that Nicodemus, an earlier character in Jesus' story, helped Joseph to prepare the body for burial.
Reading the various accounts of Jesus' burial, I couldn't help but notice this detail that I have heard so often but haven't thought much about. Joseph placed Jesus' body in his own tomb. The one meant for him when he died. To me, this is an added layer of symbolism in the resurrection account. Joseph allowed Jesus into his tomb. As a disciple, Jesus' death took the place of Joseph's spiritual death. Joseph allowed Jesus in to his life. Even a good and upright man like himself must have had some sins that he would have liked to have kept hidden. Instead, he allowed Jesus to enter in. To enter with his grace and his love and to conquer death for him.
The question for us is do we allow Jesus in to our spiritual "tombs?" Do we allow his death to penetrate our good and upright lives? To allow his grace to penetrate down to the deep, dark tombs. To roll back the big heavy rocks we've placed over them. To die for us and to rise again.
I'm sure Joseph was as surprised as the other disciples to hear what happened with Jesus' body in the end. He was probably ready to look for a new tomb for himself when he heard the accounts of the resurrection, or went down to the tomb to check things out for himself. Most of those who witnessed the resurrection were either scared, disbelieving or incredulous. Even those who had walked with Jesus for several years of his ministry did not believe what they heard. He had talked with them and preached to them about what would happen, but they were still amazed and some were still in doubt.
Are we, like the disciples, still incredulous about the resurrection? Are we scared of what it could mean for our lives? Are we disbelieving, needing to see his hands and feet first? Or are we like the women who saw him and were filled with great joy?
For the next couple of days, let us ponder what our reaction to the resurrection would have been and what it is today.
This Fall, I was at a wedding of a former youth group member. It was a joyous occasion and I had fun catching up on all the news. In the midst of the joy came a moment of sadness. I asked about another youth group member, Eliot.
There was something unique and beautiful about Eliot. He was funny, but not in the same way that others are. He had a great personality. He was caring, yet he was quick to point out the truth when he saw it. He was also a bit lost at times, a bit of a wandering soul. As a young college grad, I was sure that if I just took him to the latest Christian conference, he'd find God and all would be well. Real life isn't like that of course. Real ministry is messy and challenging. People are unique and their story is their own.
For years after I had moved on to a new church and a new area of the country, I would still think of Eliot. When he came to mind, I'd pray for him and hope that he'd found his way in life. I hadn't heard anything about him in about 13 years. At the wedding, I asked about him casually, wondering where he was, what he was up to. They told me he had died. Drugs, they thought, or maybe alcohol. "So sad." "He had been in rehab." They told me this as if it was something I could understand or comprehend. I nodded and agreed, "How sad," as the conversation moved on to other topics.
This news has haunted me ever since. Although it's been two and a half years since his death, I am freshly grieving the news. The uncertainty of it was the hardest part. How? Why? What happened? Recently I did some research online and found out that he had passed away at age 27. He had struggled with addiction for ten years, but he had been sober for a long stretch, with a girlfriend and a job at a California tech company. He had quickly relapsed and died of an accidental overdose. His father said in an article that his friends described him as funny, intelligent, sensitive; the one who kept them all balanced.
Where to go with this news? What is the legacy of this intelligent, funny, caring young man? His father said in the article that through this tragedy we have to "become a larger vessel. We have to embrace life with all of its joys and sorrows." I think that's just it. Some legacies may seem clouded by the way the person died or the shortness of their life. But, they are legacies nonetheless. I knew Eliot for only about four years, but he made an impression on me. He stood out as someone who cared about others and who saw the humor in life. He wanted to seek out truth and to live life to the full.
Another part of his legacy will live on in the "What ifs?" We can't go back and save him from drugs and alcohol. We can't change that part of his story now. What we do have is the present and the future. We can use his story as fuel to help us to seek out others who are struggling and to play a part in their story. We can offer the caring, sensitive presence to them that Eliot was to others. In so doing, we become a larger vessel.