(a mostly fictional short story by Ken Buckle)
Holy Week, 2012
Nicodemus, sitting next to Joseph of Arimathea during the meeting of the religious council, leaned over and told his friend that they needed to talk later. In the courtyard, Nicodemus described to Joseph an event many years previous, when three travelers had stopped him and given him a sum of money. Nicodemus said that these men were on a journey to the south of Jerusalem, following a bright star. They insisted that Nicodemus hold the money for a special project for a certain number of years, and then it should be given to employ two men to hew a tomb from the mountainside outside Jerusalem. Nicodemus told Joseph that the time they requested had arrived, and that he had kept the money aside all these years as they instructed.
Nicodemus, a deeply spiritual and thoughtful man of God, asked his friend what he thought about all of this. Joseph felt that sometimes mysterious events conspire and that they could be from God. As the two talked about this for a while, they concluded that nothing bad could occur from following the instructions of the harmless wise men travelers. In fact, Joseph reported recalling that just a few days prior, two men had knocked on his door looking for work. He had turned them away, but had seen them later at the marketplace. Joseph wondered if they were still there. He told Nicodemus that he would try to find them.
The next day Joseph did find the two poor men near the temple area, still looking for work. After approaching them, he asked what sort of work they could do. They said that they had recently released from a Roman prison, and their punishment involved breaking rocks. Joseph thought that this was perfect. He had some mountainous land and a garden where a tomb could be made, and set the men to work on it without telling them any of the background. He sent a messenger to Nicodemus with the news.
The two men, Jotham and Perez, began to work on the tomb in the following days. They wondered and discussed as they worked, who might be buried in this tomb. They thought that one of Joseph’s relatives might be old, or ill. Perhaps it was one of Joseph’s friends who was dying. They puzzled as to whether the person was old or young, a man or a woman, rich or poor. In fact, this topic was the main subject of their day as they worked. They also talked some about their own death. Jotham related to Perez that once he was nearly killed while he was in a fight after drinking too much. Perez said that he never thought about his own death, feeling that it might be bad luck to do so. He described the sadness of burying his father many years ago, and that his father did not have a proper burial place. As they worked, they agreed to take their time on this tomb and make it a good one, especially since Joseph seemed to have plenty of money to pay them and wasn’t watching their work very carefully.
Several months later as the city of Jerusalem prepared for Passover, Jotham and Perez finished their work on the tomb. They went to Joseph and told him that their work was done, and inquired to see if he had any additional work for them. Joseph told them that they could talk after Passover. Jotham and Perez had become good friends and decided to stay in Jerusalem, especially since they had come to enjoy listening to a rabbi there called Jesus of Nazareth in the evenings. His words touched many in Jerusalem, but Jotham and Perez felt particularly moved by him.
Joseph found Nicodemus and told him that the tomb was complete. They went together to inspect it. What they found astounded them. This tomb, paid for by three strangers and hewn by two other equally mysterious strangers, was of great quality. It was the type of tomb that a wealthy person might use, or some member of the royal family. After staring in wonder in silence, they began to laugh as only good friends can do. Each argued playfully that this would be their tomb, since it was so exquisite. They walked away together wondering what all of this meant.
To the disbelief of many in Jerusalem, including Joseph and Nicodemus, as well as Jotham and Perez, Jesus of Nazareth was arrested and put on trial before the Jewish religious leadership. He was then sent to the Roman leader Pilate. Jesus of Nazareth was condemned to death, to be crucified.
The four men, Joseph, Nicodemus, Jotham, and Perez were in the crowd when Jesus died on the cross. They were all in shock. As he wept, Joseph saw Jotham and Perez off to the side. They were not crying. They were angry: at the Romans, at the Jewish leaders, and at the world. They could not grasp how such a good man could be so terribly punished and killed. Joseph calmed them. He told them to remain there with Nicodemus. Joseph went to Pilate and requested the body.
After permission had been given, the four men took Jesus down from the cross. There was a group of women there also. One of them was the mother of the rabbi from Nazareth. They performed their tasks quietly, and with great reverence. In the following days, the four men kept these events in their hearts and came to better understand everything that had happened in the previous months and years. It was all part of a plan. They were part of a plan.
“After this, Joseph of Arimathea,
secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews,
asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus.
And Pilate permitted it.
So he came and took his body.
Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night,
also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes
weighing about one hundred pounds.
They took the body of Jesus
and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices,
according to the Jewish burial custom.
Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden,
and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried.
So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day;
for the tomb was close by.”
John 19: 38-42
The description of the tomb is very similar in the four gospels of the New Testament. The key characteristics in common are that it seemed to belong to Joseph of Arimathea, and that it was a tomb that had never been used. Have you allowed Jesus to enter in and reside in your mind, your heart, and your soul? Make a place for Him. Build it in love with great care. Don’t delay, for the hour is at hand. Allow the glorious and victorious Christ to arise in you and transform you.