Artwork by John Swanson, The Deposition
Isaiah 52:13-53:12 / Psalm 22 / Hebrews 10:16-25 / John 18:1-19:42
It seems to me that there is often a rush to celebrate Easter. Certainly in our modern society overall, but even in the church there is often a sense of rushing through Holy Week to get to the good part where we celebrate the resurrected Christ without dwelling on his death.
I get it. Death is one of those subjects we tend to avoid. We engage in activities that distract us from our own death and we are inclined to focus on more positive things. Even rituals and practices around death have been designed to provide some distance between us and the tangible reality of lifelessness.
But the gospel for today certainly doesn’t avoid the subject of death.
The gospel text from John that is typically read in full during a Good Friday service is long and it details the arrest of Jesus in the garden, his questioning by the high priest, his torture at the hands of Pontius Pilate, his crucifixion, suffering, and death. There is no doubt that in John’s account of the crucifixion of Jesus, our Lord endured much suffering before his death. Jesus, both fully God and fully human, suffered and died so that salvation might be offered to humanity.
The portion of John’s account that I was drawn to in this season of uncertainty and fear due to global pandemic, is the account of Jesus’ friends and disciples taking his lifeless body, preparing it according to Jewish customs, and laying it in the tomb. Jesus’ disciples have an intimate relationship with death in this moment. I am struck when reading this text that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus and the others that prepared Jesus’ body for burial must have been overcome with grief. They had no sense of rushing towards the celebration of resurrection because they didn’t know what was to come. They only knew that their teacher and friend and loved one had been killed, and their response was to take intimate care of his lifeless body.
I think we are in a time in our country and all throughout the world when our lives are more oriented towards suffering and death than usual. Every day we are turning on the news to a larger death toll due to Covid-19. We have been forced to quarantine ourselves to save our bodies and others’ bodies from sickness and death. Some of us may be experiencing some suffering due to lost loved ones, suffering due to depression that is increased by being forced to stay at home, suffering due to an overwhelming amount of fear or anxiety, suffering due to grief over cancelled plans and events and celebrations, suffering due to lost jobs and an uncertain future. I know for our friends in personal care homes who must deal with their mental illnesses or addictions or lack of resources in isolation, their suffering may be increased.
The facts on the ground are that we are experiencing a global trauma and that many of us will experiencing suffering and some of us may experience death. I find comfort, not in an answer to “why is all this happening?” but in the knowledge that the God I am praying to gave himself over to suffering and death. God knows suffering and death intimately. So that when I cry out to him amidst suffering, I know he is present with me there and for that I am grateful.
So, on this Good Friday, where there isn’t much in the world that seems good, I am asking myself how I can tend to the reality of the lifeless body of Jesus that has been tortured and crucified. How can I pause in this part of Jesus’ story, not rushing to celebrate the resurrection, but grieve as if one of his closest friends preparing his body for burial? For it is only in suffering that we come to know the fullness of love and redemption offered to the world. It is only through darkness that we come to know light.