Sermon preached at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church for the Ecumenical Good Friday Service, 2017 in Enid, Oklahoma.
After Jesus is crucified, John speaks of two individuals who emerge from the shadows, exposing themselves, risking their anonymity, putting their reputations on the line, by claiming the body of Jesus. The first is Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus who had previously hid his faith in secrecy for what John calls “fear of the Jews.” He was one of the Jewish authorities who never openly confessed their faith in Jesus because of fear of losing their political power and position in the synagogue.
And the second was Nicodemus. You may remember Nicodemus from John chapter 3. He had previously come to Jesus secretly by night, showing some interest in Jesus, but never making a public profession of faith. However, now on Friday afternoon, in claiming the body of Jesus, the faith of both of these men is clearly exposed and made very public.
And as we read John’s account we notice that by coming out of the shadows, openly claiming the body of Jesus, these two men do much more than risk their anonymity and their reputation in their community. They also put at risk their religion. For touching the dead body of Jesus made them ceremonially unclean which meant that they would be unable to celebrate the Passover and the Sabbath with their families.
The extravagant amount of burial spices which weighed about a hundred pounds that the men bring to anoint Jesus’ body, tell us that these men also put at risk their riches. Along with the expensive spices, the linen burial clothes they used to prepare Jesus for burial were usually something worn only by people of wealth and prominence. The pristine condition of the garden tomb also underscores the extravagance of Jesus’ interment.
So in this story we see two persons who come out of the shadows risking reputation, religion and riches to claim the body of Jesus.
The question which should come to our minds is why? Why risk anything for someone who is dead? Why would Joseph and Nicodemus risk their reputation, their status in the community; their religion, their standing in their family; their riches, and their wealth for a lifeless corpse?
What was it that led these men to risk so much? Well, one might ask: What would have happened to the body of Jesus if these men had not claimed the body of Jesus? Well history tells us that after a Roman crucifixion, the unclaimed bodies were often left hanging on the cross to be picked apart by birds. And other times, the unclaimed bodies were simply thrown into the trash dump outside of town.
So these men, living in secret shadows, loving Jesus from afar, simply said, “enough is enough.”
We can no longer conceal our faith. We can no longer mask our love. We can no longer sit back and do nothing. We can not bear to let our Lord and our Savior’s body be defiled by being picked at by birds or thrown into a pile of trash.
We must do something. Even if it means putting at risk every thing that we cherish, everything that we hold dear. Even if it means risking our reputation, our religion (the way we have always done it anyway), all of our riches, we must act. We can no longer stay in the shadows. Our love for our Lord demands that we claim his body: that we remove him from the cross; that we prepare his body for burial, that we seal him in a rich man’s tomb.
It was love, pure and simple and powerful which caused these men to act on the behalf of Jesus by claiming his body risking reputation, religion and riches.
The irony here is that it was the same love which caused our God to act on our behalf. The story of Joseph and Nicodemus is the story of our God. Out of a high and holy place, our God said: enough is enough. I can no longer love my creation from afar. I can no longer watch my creation suffer and perish. I can no longer keep myself from risking my all, from empting myself, from becoming a human being. I can no longer keep myself from offering my creation all that I am and all that I have. I can no longer keep myself from pouring myself out. I can no longer keep myself from loving my creation even to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Joseph and Nicodemus claimed the body of Jesus because they were filled with the divine love of God.
The question for us is this: How long are we going to continue to live in the shadows? How long until we open our hearts to the story of God’s love; to the divine love of God which wants to fill our souls, to be so overflowing with the love of God that we have to cry out: “enough is enough! I can no longer sit back and do nothing, I must act. I can no longer love my Lord and my Savior from afar. I must claim the body of Jesus, the body of Christ, for myself even if it means putting at risk the things I most hold dear. Even if it means risking reputation, religion, and riches, I must share this pure and simple and powerful love with everyone I know. I can no longer let others suffer alone. I can no longer sit back and allow injustice to continue. I can no longer ignore inequality. I can no longer turn my back on those who are marginalized and ostracized. I can no longer keep my faith private. I can no longer remain silent. I can no longer keep myself from giving all that I have and all that I am to the ones who are lonely, thirsty, cold and hungry. Enough is enough! I must claim the body of Christ!”
Well, what are we waiting for? Are we afraid of what we might lose from risking so much? Let’s look at what Joseph and Nicodemus lost by claiming Jesus’ body. They really did not lose a thing. Instead of losing their reputations, their good names, their names are remembered by the gospel writers and by you and me two thousand years later as the ones who risked everything to claim the body of Jesus.
How do we want to be remembered? As someone who lived only for one’s self; accumulating a lifetime of reputation, religion and riches? Or would we rather be remembered as one who because of so much divine love welling up inside of our heart, we risked it all to claim the body of Jesus? By doing whatever we can to serve our Lord in our community and in our world. By giving all that we have and all that we are to our Lord by loving others with the complete, divine love of God.