John 19:38

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body.

Joseph of Arimathea is described in each of the four gospels as the one who donated his own tomb for the burial of Jesus. He is variously described as a rich man, a righteous man, a member of the religious council, one who looked forward to the kingdom of God, a disciple of Jesus, and sometimes several of these things at the same time. Which is a lot of information about his status, but not all that much about him as a person. Indeed, apart from these various designations, we actually know very little about him.

Except this: Joseph was also extremely brave. Hs decision to appeal to Pilate for Jesus’ body and to give over his own tomb for his burial took tremendous courage. Keep in mind that Jesus had just been condemned by the religious and political leaders alike and then executed as an enemy of the state. To be associated with him was to be associated with his crimes. And yet Joseph is undeterred. Whatever his relationship to Jesus previously – John suggests that fear led him to be a disciple in secret – he now openly declares his allegiance to Jesus by these acts.

Why now, we might wonder. What was it about Jesus’ death that moved him to overcome his fear that did not seem to draw him into the open while Jesus was alive?

We don’t know. But we do know that it is never too late. If ever it had seemed so – if ever, that is, it seemed like there was no point in declaring his support for Jesus – it would have been at his death. How easy, after all, it would have been to cover over his sympathies for this rebellious rabbi now that he was dead. Joseph could have so easily gone back to his previous life.

Or could he? Something about the way this man lived and died moved Joseph to faith, even when it looked like there was no longer any point. Sometimes that’s the way it is with faith. It doesn’t make sense, and yet it moves us anyway.

And all of this might serve as a reminder that it is, indeed, never too late to come to faith, never too late to recognize God’s profound love, never too late to respond to God’s invitation to abundant life. And so even at this late moment, Joseph acts and, in doing so, declares himself openly as a disciple of Jesus and is remembered for his generosity and courage across the millennia.

Prayer: Dear God, we give thanks for the faith, generosity, and courage of Joseph of Arimathea and ask that you might grant the same to us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Post image: “Descent from the Cross,” Byzantine icon, Church of Agia Marina, Kalopanagiotis.