Matthew 27: 57-60 Jesus is placed in the tomb
I can’t help but allude to our dear friend Maurice Hilliard, who passed away a few short weeks ago. Following his passing, I began to reflect on every encounter we shared, every prayer we offered behind the chapel, and every loving word of wisdom he disclosed to me. I felt unworthy of his time, and yet our time spent together was never enough. I was full of regret for not taking advantage of his presence, wisdom, and unconditional love.
I imagine this is a fraction of what Joseph of Arimathea felt as he silently carried Jesus’ body to a tomb, a tomb that Joseph had actually prepared for himself. I imagine him weeping bitterly. I imagine him longing to speak with Jesus one last time. I even wonder if the faithful few who carried Jesus to tomb felt a hint of shame. Could this lifeless body truly be God incarnate? I wonder if they secretly suffered embarrassment for dedicating their lives to this man who proved to be merely mortal?
Yes, Christ died. The most complex part of the Gospel that isn’t found in any other religious doctrine. God died. The crucifixion undoubtedly reveals the humanity of Jesus. Jesus bled the same blood that we do. Jesus experienced a final breath, he felt pain, fear, and sorrow. Why God would manifest Himself into the human experience, I do not know. How unfathomable for God to come down amongst the very thing He created, a creation that turned away from Him. Those He loved so deeply welcomed him by spitting on him, beating him, and denying him. Yet his one response was to die for the very thing that hated Him.
The three days Jesus spent in the tomb are one of the mysteries of the Gospel we may never understand. The disciples were probably on edge, sorrowful and anxious. I imagine them sitting there in a profound silence, waiting and praying, and maybe slowly starting to lose hope.
Luckily for us, the story doesn’t here.
My first year at Pepperdine, I passed a portrait of Jesus laughing. It caught me off guard, because that isn’t normally how Jesus is portrayed. Instead, we see statues and images of Jesus dying on the cross. Don’t get me wrong, it is crucial to remember and reflect on what Christ endured on the cross. However, I don’t always want to worship that picture of Jesus on dying on the cross, full of sorrow and on the brink of death. My Jesus did die, but now He is alive. That is why we worship, that is why we celebrate. I mourn in the death of my Lord but with unbounded joy I rejoice that He is alive! When Joseph rolled the stone in front of the tomb, it was not permanent, it was not yet finished.
As the Disciples mourned the death of Jesus and waited in anticipation for the resurrection, “we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
Death is just a stepping stone into eternal life. Jesus has gone before, as have many others – including our brother Maurice. We can mourn them for a time, but what longing should stir in our hearts to be with them! “For to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”