50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid.
He asked for the kingdom of God.
He received instead a lifeless, bloodied, soiled body;
but a body, nonetheless, so, good man that he was,
he took that body and wrapped it in fresh linen;
sprinkled spices of disappointment across the
shroud, then laid the bitter remains of his dreams on a
shelf in the dank darkness of his new rock tomb.
He had been tempted, yes he had, tempted to
simply walk away and leave that corpse on the cross
for others to dispose of, but, surely, he reasoned,
surely this man, disappointing as he turned out to be,
surely he deserved—simply as a human being—a final,
quiet dignity. One more caress for the shrouded
remnants of his dream; one more sigh, and then he left to
close the tomb and seal away forever all his kingdom hopes.
But then…that curious rumor in the air that sent him back to
tidy up his now strange-emptied tomb; and there the lingering
scent of myrrh and aloes, mixed with something
new and strange, ethereal, it seemed, almost like
angel breath; and, too, that mystifying luster
glimmering ever just beyond his sight; those
linen wrappings, stained and stretched across the shelf…
Could it possibly be? Could his cave have been the
womb in which the costly kingdom pearl had been
laid to rest and then had birthed new life beyond this life?
And were his muted actions somehow part of all of that—
his futile disagreement with the Council? his binding of that
mangled body in his linen winding sheet? He hoped, but
sureness hovered just beyond mind’s reach; so quietly he
folded all his questions into the empty creases of the
shroud, and quietly he left his silent tomb.
Yet heart emboldened by that hushed and holy emptiness,
mysterious Presence filling gaps and pauses nestled in the
restless aching of his soul, he asked for rising faith to
6 Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. 8 But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? 9 For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this good news[b] is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Whatever prompted me to be so bold?! In my dotage now, I quite startle myself as I think about what I did at Simon’s dinner party so long ago.
Jesus had just recently made his triumphal march into Jerusalem. Now we were all just waiting. Waiting for that moment when he would clear the political decks, declare the Roman occupation over, and take the destiny of our nation into his own hands. Simon had spread a festive table in anticipation of that coming moment of triumph, and I was so pleased to be one of the guests. My eyes mirrored the shining hope that sparkled in the eyes of the disciples, and we were all just a little bit giddy. All except for Jesus, that is. Very quiet. Very solemn. I went over to tease him a bit, get him to smile and join the party! But as I drew closer to him, I saw the profound sadness in his eyes, a sadness so cavernous it seemed to enfold every sorrow, and I do mean every sorrow(!) that earth had ever known.
My heart cracked open a bit when I saw those eyes, and I simply could not help myself. I didn’t know what that pain was all about, but I knew that words could never touch it. So without giving it a second thought, I simply took the vial of expensive ointment I wore around my neck, and in one quick motion, I opened it and poured it all—yes, every drop of it!—over his head. I remember hoping it would somehow seep into his very soul and ease a bit the pain I had seen in those eyes.
Immediately the air in the room became heavy with the rich fragrance of the ointment. Heavy, too, with a stunned silence—everyone shocked at such a bold act. And then that dark hostility which I can never forget. Coming especially from the corner where the disciples were standing. “What a waste! We could have sold that ointment and used the money to help the many poor who will doubtless come flocking to Jesus’ new kingdom! A pox on her and her stupidity.”
My cheeks burned a fiery red, and I wished the ground would open up and swallow me right then and there. It didn’t, of course. Tears ran down my face as I stumbled towards the door. But through my sobs, I heard his gentle voice: “Why do you trouble the woman? She has done a good service for me…By pouring this ointment on me, she has prepared me for burial.” I froze. His words were truly a gift, but a gift that sliced into my very soul. Burial? But he was far too young to be thinking of his death!
I ponder it all now, years after the fact, and I am so grateful that I followed my heart that night. Grateful I could offer him that tiny bit of consolation before the agonies of his final earthly days with us. Grateful for his kind words that still echo in my soul when winter rains come and cold winds sweep across my aging dreams.
All these memories will soon be buried with my bones. Jesus said I would long be remembered wherever the good news of his life and death and resurrection might be proclaimed, and that’s a pleasant thought in these my final days. It will indeed be nice to be remembered. But I hope I won’t be remembered just in the telling of my story. I’d really rather be remembered by people…
taking the time and care to look into another’s eyes to see, to really see, the aches and longings hiding there; by people
opening their hearts in gestures of love, no matter how foolish those gestures may appear; and by people
pouring vials of rich, costly heart-kindness into the lives of others, not to solve all their problems, but simply to brighten and cheer and remind those others that they are not alone.
Time now for me to put away my pen and close my eyes for sleep. I pray God soon to call me home, and I pray God’s peace to any who may chance some day to come upon what I have written.