Matthew 27:55-61

Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.  Matthew 27:55-61

There are several things in this passage that we do well to notice. Every time we read this. Because they fly in the face of commonly held myths and preconceptions.

Peter denied knowing Jesus. Judas betrayed him. The other disciples presumably scattered with the wind. But many women stuck with Jesus until the end. They followed Jesus throughout his ministry. They supported him. They provided for him. They stayed with his body even after he breathed his last. Two followed his body all the way to the tomb.

Women have never been the supporting cast in the Christian movement. From the very beginning, against the winds of culture, they have been full-fledged active participants and leaders. There would be no Christian movement without women. And Jesus – not to mention the writers of the gospels and, before them, the Apostle Paul – went out of his way to recognize women. Only later, as the church gained power and prestige in the empire, were women relegated to secondary status. But they have always been critical to Christian mission. Even if it took (speaking for my denomination) until 1970 to acknowledge that and begin ordaining women as pastors.

Second, our bank accounts are not measurements of our spiritual condition. Matthew tells us that Joseph of Arimathea was both a wealthy person and a follower of Jesus. Imagine the courage – and the connections – it took to approach Pilate and ask for the body of Jesus. That wasn’t how things were done. Normally the bodies of the crucified would hang in place until the cross was needed again. But Joseph took it upon himself to spare Jesus that indignity.

Not only that, Joseph generously allowed Jesus to be placed into the very tomb that Joseph had prepared (and paid for) for himself. It has never been about what a person has, has always been about what a person does with what they have. The Christian movement never would have flourished, nor would it flourish today, without the generosity of people of means using their wealth to support Christian mission. Jesus wasn’t just for “poor people” – he was for poor people too.

And finally, I make up in my mind that Pilate knew he had done wrong. He knew he had presided over a miscarriage of justice. But he was a politician first and, in the cost/benefit analysis of protecting Jesus or protecting his own position, Pilate took the easy (for him) way out. But then he gave the body of Jesus to Joseph to care for, even though he might be criticized for such leniency. Even politicians sometimes get it right.

Now Jesus’ body takes up its place in Joseph’s tomb. And the women, yes, the women, take up their vigil.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, in every age, people of courage and faith have stood up for you, stood even in the face of opposition and rejection. As the women and Joseph cared for your body, may we care for your body today. Even when it is costly. Even when it is scary. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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