This is the Vicar's offering, reflecting on the two 'minor characters' who appear in the final verses of the Passion story, as told in the Gospel of John....
The readings for the liturgy of Good Friday conclude with tender and brave acts of love.Both Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are cautious—Joseph is a secret disciple of Jesus, and Nicodemus had come to Jesus in the night, perhaps with a hood over his head and looking over his shoulder the whole way. Yet these two hesitant men demonstrate courage. Joseph asks for the body, and Nicodemus brings “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.” They clean and care for his body, and prepare him for burial.
Good Friday services are emotionally intense, and they can seem exhausting. Perhaps that is your sense, right now, or will be by the time we leave this building in silence at 3.00pm. Well, in some ways, maybe, but I hope not, ultimately...
It is agonizing to witness the horrors of Jesus’ suffering and to acknowledge our own sinfulness. But somehow our worship, offered correctly, does not add to the exhaustions of our daily life. Instead, a quiet repose descends, and we sense a kind of renewal. I wonder if this peace which passes understanding comes in part from the way the story draws to a close.
Joseph and Nicodemus remind us that even the most hesitant and furtive followers of Jesus are capable of devoted gestures of love, tender acts of witness that make a difference. During the service, we may identify with our Patron Saint Peter as we remember all the ways in which we have turned away from Jesus. But perhaps at some level we also see ourselves in these two men at the end of the story. We know that we are capable of acts of bravery, at least sometimes. We are indeed capable of caring for dying loved ones, though we never look forward to doing so.
We are not heroic, perfect Christians. But we don’t have to be.