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Apr 10 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Good Friday – 2020

Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices . . . . Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb . . . . since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. John 19:39-42

I have not been especially mindful of Holy Week this year—too many other distractions. However, this morning my reading in John’s Gospel brought me to the crucifixion of Jesus and, appropriately so, that became my meditation.

As John’s footnote indicates, we have already met Nicodemus. It was near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and a moment when the story was filled with hope and promise. Nicodemus arranged a private meeting with this impressive young man whom he recognized to be “a teacher come from God.” Jesus taught Nicodemus the two sides of religion, that which is manufactured by “the flesh” and that which can only come by “the Spirit.” Nicodemus learned from the Lord that he needed to be born into the life of God’s Spirit.

Then, about halfway through Jesus’ ministry Nicodemus resurfaced. He attempted to defend Jesus, or at least slow down a rush to judgment, when the chief priests and Pharisees were prepared to condemn Christ without allowing him a fair hearing. However, Nicodemus was quickly and effectively silenced by a prejudicial attitude the religious leaders held against Galileans (Jn. 7:50-52).

Nicodemus’ reappearance at the end of Jesus’ ministry sharpens the grief surrounding the cross. The Lord’s disciples, family and friends were not the only ones who lost him when he said, “It is finished,” bowed his head, and gave up his spirit. There were others on the periphery of his ministry like the unnamed Samaritan woman, the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda, and the blind man whom Jesus told to wash his eyes in the pool of Siloam, and when he did he could see.

And there was Nicodemus. His curiosity about Jesus at the first, then the fight in him when Jesus was treated unjustly, and the hope he felt that this man might be Israel’s salvation — all of that was gone. There was nothing left to do than bury the body. It was safe for Nicodemus to assist with this responsibility, because he was not a known disciple of Jesus. Besides, he belonged to the Pharisee sect, most of whom were hostile to the Lord. He was willing to come and help lay Jesus—and the Jesus movement—to rest.

We cannot lose Jesus! To lose him is to lose everything. Jesus cannot become to us nothing more than a fond memory, a nostalgic remembrance of happier times. We cannot return to the garden now and then to leave flowers on his grave, as if the world can go on without him. To his last breath, there was a chance he might somehow escape death. But when his corpse was removed from the cross and placed in the tomb, the stone that was rolled over its entrance, sealed all hope in darkness.

The sorrow of Good Friday is not only the suffering of deep grief, it is complete despair. It is the saddest, the most difficult and frustrating cliff-hanger of all time.

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