The King Is Buried
Devotion written by Phil Clarke
Read: Matthew 27:57-66
Friday draws to a close, Sabbath beginning at sunset. Jesus’ foes have done their worst, and He did nothing to prevent them. Strange and perplexing signs have been seen, but dots are yet to be connected. Now is the time of darkness and doubt. His brothers are in hiding. Only the women feel unimportant enough to escape hostile attention, huddling in their anguish as near to Him as they can. The crowds have long gone home.
Then out of the woodwork comes an unexpected character, a rich man, one Joseph of Arimathea (a town near Jerusalem). While many colourful legends grew around him in later centuries, the Gospel accounts tell us little. Mark informs us that he was a respected member of the Sanhedrin, the very council that had condemned Jesus. One ancient text says he knew Pilate socially. But now he cashes in all his high-society chips by boldly asking the governor for Christ’s body. Why take such a risk?
We know he was a secret disciple. Perhaps it was shame: he had played it safe, tried to influence his colleagues to a softer approach, but had achieved nothing – Jesus was dead. At least He might be buried honourably. And why did Pilate agree? Criminals were usually left hanging out for the crows, as it was better for deterring rebellion. Pilate was a brutal, pragmatic man, yet perhaps it was superstitious fear of his wife’s dreams. Perhaps he just wanted to forget this unnerving, silent king.
Joseph arranges to have his Master’s body respectfully interred in his new family tomb. John’s account tells us that he is aided by his colleague Nicodemus, another shadowy disciple, who brings fragrant myrrh to pack Christ’s winding-sheet for burial. And so the strange gift Jesus received as a child comes full circle. Then the great stone is rolled into place. The Marys sit nearby in silent sorrow.
Tomorrow, there will be more frantic activity as Jesus’ enemies try to control the political narrative, to prevent further messiahs popping up. But this is not yet the day when we can see the full irony of their futile manoeuvring, how the more they raged, the more they became pawns of the Lord of History, turning Roman guards into the witless witnesses of the Sign of Jonah (Mt 12). Only later would we see or understand that the script had been written centuries before:
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with a rich man in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:9)
Later, this seemingly contradictory prophecy about the identity of God’s Suffering Servant would suddenly become crystal-clear. But not tonight. This is the night of silence when the King is buried.
Let us not rush too quickly from the passion of Friday to the glories of Sunday. He did not.
* * * * * * * * *
Following Phil’s encouragement above you might want to just meditate on the three verses of this hymn and leave the chorus for tomorrow…
1. Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Saviour,
waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!
2. Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Saviour,
vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!
3. Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Saviour;
He tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!
Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he live forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!
Robert Lowry (1826-99)
• With which of the characters in the story do you most identify, and why?
• Do you think that our thoughts and reflections sometimes jump too quickly from Good Friday to Easter Sunday? If so, why do you think this is?
• Our church stream has a strong focus on God’s presence, and the affirmation of His blessings. What do you think we can learn about Jesus’ kingship from times when God seems absent, when there are no answers, only mystery, and everything seems lost?
Family worship idea
You could plant some seeds. The seed needs to die and is buried, and then in due course as a result new life begins! It also means that in a few weeks’ time when the plant starts to grow you can retell the Easter story as a reminder.
Children’s craft idea
Make a ‘stained glass window’ effect cross. Using an outline of black card mounted on sticky-backed plastic you could fill the cross shape with small pieces of tissue paper. Further instructions are available here.