Nicodemus and Joseph of Aramathea

Friday 25th March 2005
Good Friday
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint

Based on Meditation By The Cross.

He cried out through the sneering hubbub: "My God, why have You foresaken me?"; and then He died.

Well, at least that is what Nicodemus and Joseph thought He had said. Some time later somebody said that He had commended Himself to the Father but that sounded a bit unlikely given the lasting impression of desperation they heard in His distant cry. Distant, of course, it was distant; they were frightened; they didn't want to get too involved. The place was infested with fellow Pharisees, Sadducees, minor officials, soldiers and cranks; and you couldn't be too careful. Caiphas was clearly in a filthy mood; he had probably overstepped the mark in calling for the death of Jesus. They heard strange laughter from a passer-by who said Pilate had proclaimed Jesus to be King of the Jews. Well, he was so unpredictable; you never knew where you were.

They always had kept their distance except for the night when Nicodemus secretly visited Jesus to ask Him about The Kingdom. Ever since then he had been in the background, quietly pulling strings; arguing for moderation when the authorities wanted to arrest Jesus; sending discreet warnings when things were getting too hot; urging the Disciples to take Jesus out of Jerusalem for a few days until things quieted down. Yes, Nicodemus had always been there and there abouts in the corridors of power, quietly doing his earthly bit for this unearthly prophet; but always careful not to be identified as a follower; just doing his cautious bit on the Council to keep the temperature down.

And Joseph, well, he had always been too shy to approach Jesus directly but he had quietly tipped Judas the odd donation, for the poor, for the Disciples and for Jesus; he had never been one to put himself forward but business was good and he always had a little something to spare. He would have liked to do more but he never could quite work out how; Jesus was so odd when it came to money; so gentle and yet so forthright. Joseph didn't know whether he would ever quite come to terms with the incident in the Temple Courtyard when Jesus had expelled all the traders.

And they knew each other, Nicodemus and Joseph; in the hothouse of Jerusalem religious politics that was hardly surprising; they had even sat on the same Temple fund raising committee for a while. And they each knew that the other knew Jesus; but they had never brought themselves to mention it as they exchanged pleasantries at social and ceremonial occasions.

And now, as this horrible, almost unbearable scene drew them together, they still found it difficult to drop the pretense. They knew they had not done enough for Jesus; they had been content to be discreet, like fellow travellers, tacitly supporting a good cause. It was too late to show their hand now to Jesus but things had to be done. Pilate would have to be approached for the body and you never knew what sort of a mood he would be in; and it was a bit awkward but they would have to talk to the women about the burial of Jesus. There wasn't much time to waste as the Sabbath was rapidly approaching.

They forgot the horror in the flurry of activity; filing a writ for the body of Jesus, making all the burial arrangements; and Mary was so quiet and calm, making them feel that she was looking after them instead of the other way round, so gently that it wasn't embarrassing.

But on the way home it really hit them. They felt that they had missed a once in a lifetime opportunity to find themselves spiritually. Jesus was like nobody else they had ever heard but they had never quite managed to commit themselves, there was always a tiny cord of caution holding them back; they could have broken it but that would have broken the cautious habits of a lifetime; so they had watched, and listened and waited; and then He had cried out with a loud voice; and it was too late.

So before they parted for the Sabbath they agreed to meet regularly with the Disciples, if they could find them, to go through the whole life story of Jesus to see what they could salvage from it. They would try to be brave; they would try to face up to their own caution, or perhaps it would be more honest to call it cowardice; they would commit themselves to the memory of Jesus and see that His wisdom would not be forgotten; and they would do their best to help those He had left behind.

It was a miserable Sabbath; the most miserable they had ever known. They kept hearing His distant, desperate cry; they wished they had been closer, to hear what He had really said. Nicodemus could hardly bear the moonlight; it reminded Him so much of that night he had talked with Jesus; Joseph could not bear the darkness when the moon disappeared because it reminded him of the tomb. Nicodemus couldn't get the strange riddle out of his head that Jesus told him on that mysterious night: "God loved the world so much He sent His only son; all who believe in Him will not die but will be saved; for God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it but that it might be saved through Him." Well, whatever it meant, it was meaningless now.

And, as Joseph tossed and turned during that desolate night, he, too, remembered Jesus saying something; something about coming back again after three days, something curious about destroying and rebuilding the Temple. They could make no sense of it when they met on Saturday evening. They were haunted by an opportunity missed. Only God, looking down on His broken world knew their broken hearts; only God knew that they were not too late; that they would get another and another and another chance; only God knew that His Son had not died in vain, that His unswerving obedience would bring Him to unimaginable, everlasting glory. Only God knew.

Prayer. Jesus, Saviour of the World, may we be bold and brave in Your service, loving Your Father without restraint and loving our neighbour with cheerful generosity. Even now, as You are suspended between earthly life and Heavenly glory, we pray for Your help that we may lose our earthly inhibitions and grow in our desire for the Heavenly life. And, as you loved all Your Father's children in spite of their timid strivings, may we feel Your sacred love, born of the Father and radiated within us through Your Holy Spirit. Amen.