Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
Anyone who has spent a weekend in Jerusalem knows about Jerusalem’s Sabbath rotation: Friday in the Muslim quarter, Saturday in the Jewish quarter, and Sunday in the Christian quarters. Anyone traveling over these days must be careful to coordinate the different bus or train systems and their unique sabbath observances.
Sabbath observance varies between and within faith traditions but is often a joyful time of rest, worship, and family togetherness. Each tradition remembers God’s creation of the world and subsequent rest. Muslims observe Jumu’ah prayers Friday afternoon– “Jumu’ah” sharing its root with the Arabic words for mosque, Friday, and group/ gathering.
Sometimes when Sabbath rolls around, stopping is the last thing we want to do. I imagine Joseph and the women who were with him wanted to go out and protest Jesus’ death, or distract themselves with work, or get out of town to forget the grief. But instead, they stopped, in accordance with the commandment.
This particular Sabbath in Jerusalem had a somber tone for Jesus’ followers. State executions like Jesus’ were not uncommon, so the rest of the city might have been apathetic. Or they might have been relieved Jesus was gone. Like modern-day state executions, most people probably didn’t know or care.
But Joseph cared. He opposed the execution and “was waiting for the kingdom of God.” Like Anna, who worshipped at the temple night and day, fasting and praying, waiting for “the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36-37). Like Simeon, after waiting “for the consolation of Israel,” held Jesus and said, “you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:25, 29-30). Joseph held this same tender, vulnerable body, once fulfilling anticipation and hope, now disappointing expectations.
On Holy Saturday, we continue to mourn Jesus’ unjust death. We remember that we have little idea what resurrection and a new creation will look like. Instead of hoping, we take the next right step: go home and rest in obedience to the commandment. And maybe prepare some spices or perfumes.
These women were probably preparing spices and perfumes to anoint Jesus’ dead body, as they went to do the day after Sabbath. They likely didn’t expect Jesus to rise from the dead, at least not so soon, or they wouldn’t have bothered with these preparations. But if Jesus wasn’t going to rise soon, weren’t his promises and teaching a bit of a sham? Whose messiah and king was he really? Which temple did he raise in three days? Whose burden is easy and whose yoke is light? Whose sins are forgiven? Physician, heal yourself!
May we, too, in observing Sabbath wait for the coming Kingdom, hope for things unseen, and remain faithful to our Lord– even when we’re full of disappointment, doubt, anger, fear, and confusion.
God of stillness, meet us in our waiting. Meet us in our expectations and hopes as well as our disappointments and fears and doubts. Meet us as we rest, as we pray, and as we gather. Grant us perseverance when our hopes fade and love for those who discourage and disappoint us. Grant us the courage always to take the next right step, whether that be to rest, prepare spices, or run to an empty tomb. Amen.
Kevin is a Ph.D. candidate in Religion and Society at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he also earned an M.Div. His research focuses on the relationship between the Israeli occupation of Palestine and Palestinians with disabilities, and how the occupation produces disability. He is currently waiting to continue fieldwork in Bethlehem until it is safe to do so. In joining CMEP, he is excited to complement his research with advocacy work.
Kevin also earned a BA in philosophy from University of Chicago and has researched how churches can better care for and empower people with various disabilities. He has affiliations with the Evangelical Covenant Church, Vineyard USA, and United Methodist Church. In his spare time, you can find him running, biking, or playing the piano. CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.