“Holy Presence”

Nov 21, 2021

The Scripture

Luke 23

26 As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28 But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. 47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” 48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49 But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

 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. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

The Sermon

Our “Face of Faith” is another obscure individual. He is only mentioned in three short verses. Our “Face of Faith” is Joseph of Arimathea!  I am not reading the entire chapter as it is so very long but to orient ourselves to where we are in this chapter, Jesus has just stood trial and been condemned to die by crucifixion.

Joseph of Arimathea…it is easy to totally miss him, to bypass this brief reference of how he went to Pilate to ask for the dead body of Jesus. One might even ask, why is this even worth mentioning?  But the more I thought about this man named Joseph, the more I realized why we need to pay attention to him and learn from him. This is what we know about Joseph; he was a member of the council, which means he was part of the Jewish leadership and he was connected to the whole movement to end Jesus’ life.  To end his life because he was a threat.  Yet, Joseph did not agree with his colleagues…he saw something else in Jesus. Scripture mentioned that Joseph of Arimathea was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God.  He must have sensed something about Jesus.  Maybe he hoped that Jesus was the One who was to come to restore God’s kingdom and to set things straight.  Even with these hopes, and standing in opposition to those who thought differently, he witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus.  He saw him die on the cross.

Here at this very place, at this point in time is when we see the Holy Presence of Joseph. When the disciples have all scattered, and the rest of the council members most likely satisfied with the outcome, Joseph steps up and enters into the darkness of the reality of Jesus’ death and goes to Pilate to seek permission to take down his body from and the cross.  The timing of this was of the essence.  The Sabbath was in just a day and if he didn’t act now Jesus’ body remain on the cross.  Look at this image…he is gently carrying the body of Jesus, it is a holy time, a lonely time, heading to a tomb by himself that he most likely had purchased for himself or maybe his family.  They say Joseph was a rich man and out of this  abundance he provided a resting place for Jesus’ body.  Now we must remember that Joseph could not see into the future, nor could he even anticipate what would happen in three days.  For him, he was doing what no one else could muster up the strength to do, face the reality of Jesus’ death and provide a proper burial for him.  He carried Jesus’ body to the tomb and wrapped him in linen cloth.  He provided a Holy Presence!

Joseph of Arimathea is truly a “Face of our Faith.”  He teaches us that are times when everyone around us will disappear. Filled with fear, sadness, or despair, or simply unable to cope with a difficult reality, it is exactly at times like this when we are called to be a Holy Presence.  Even in our own aloneness and facing our own bewilderness, we can and must step forward doing what needs to be done to show the world we are not afraid to face the darkness.  We are not afraid to hold the empty space and wait for the unknown future to arrive.  As we too live with loss and doubt and darkness, we can hold on to hope too, and be present to one another in ways that our hope becomes a bridge, a connection holding us all together.  We can be a Holy Presence, giving others the courage to wait and to remain steady until a new day emerges.

Joseph of Arimathea, thank you for being a Holy Presence! Amen