“As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27 v 57-61)
There are no details, except that Joseph and Nicodemus (according to John) took the body down from the cross.
How did they do this?
Nails had to be pulled from his feet and his hands. They would have needed ladders. Ropes would have to be untied. The thorns removed from his head. Blood wiped away.
We don’t know how they went about it. Christian icons and art forms have emerged throughout the centuries exploring what might have happened, for example, the early 17th century Rubens painting, ‘Descent from the Cross’ which you can see online.
Joseph was a disciple (according to Matthew), a secret one (John), a prominent member of the Jewish Council (Mark) but who had not consented to their decision and actions with Jesus (Luke). Nicodemus (John) was the one who had encountered Jesus at night and had been taught on being ‘born again’ (John 3). John the closest disciple was there and so were the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee (Luke) including the 2 Mary’s mentioned in what we have just read.
These disciples led by Joseph and Nicodemus all help in some way with the descent of Jesus’ body from the cross. They would all have their own thoughts and emotions. Grief was obviously there but numbed after all the wailing and tears. A poignancy based on the realisation that this is the last time they will see Jesus before he is placed in the tomb forever. Thankfulness for how he had changed their lives even for a short time. Awe and wonder at his determined self-sacrifice which none of them could have prevented even though they had longed to do so.
If you pause and look at any of the paintings or even if you meditate on the words, “So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen …” then you will see an amazing truth.
It will cost you (bought some linen). You will have to act (took down the body). You will have to go carefully (wrapped it in linen).
Your journey to the cross can be one of struggle as you surrender and learn obedience. Your journey from the cross has to be worship, you have nothing left; there is no other way.
Authentic worship is when you have nothing to gain.
Maybe you can describe your situation today as descending from the cross. Death and disappointment are in your hands. However, you still have choices. Dignity is still in your grasp. Worship is still in your heart. Love is still consuming you. Jesus may be silent. It may feel like He has gone from you. But don’t forget, He always returns! So descend well, choose right; don’t give up.