4 April: John 19.38-42

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. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.


I have tried always to keep a space. A space between myself and other people so that I had room for solitude, for rational thought. A space in my own mind so that I could rest. Even an open space in my religious devotion, lest it become too intense and unbalanced. It seemed to me to be both courteous and prudent to plan my life in this way, and the provision of space gave me freedom and a lightness of touch in my dealings with the world. To others, the distance may have seemed to indicate an unfeeling coldness. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is tenderness, not hardness, that has prompted me, from my youth, to keep a space.

I am, however, a man who likes to plan ahead and to make provision. And so, even though I am in vigorous health, I decided to commission my own tomb. I bought the land, had the cave prepared to my specification, saw that the groove was cut for the stone to roll across the opening. I had to pay to have my tomb regularly tended while it was empty, waiting for the day when I would have need of it. But it was worth it, for the peace of mind of knowing that my resting place was prepared, and that no distant relative would be required to squeeze me into some family vault, packing me in haphazardly with cousins.

I didn’t intend to listen to the Teacher. I certainly didn’t intend, in some sense, to become one of his followers. He was a man of vision, not a man of plans. He didn’t know where his next meal was coming from or where he would stay that night. He seemed allergic to space, his hands reaching across it to touch a child, a woman, a foreigner, a leper, a tax collector. ‘Cautious’ and ‘prudent’ were not terms that applied to him. His few words of anger were reserved for those who tried to make a space around him – ‘Let her alone!’ ‘Let them come to me!’ I was fascinated and appalled in almost equal measure, and strangely honoured when he acknowledged my presence with a nod, as I kept my careful place at the back of the crowd.

And then they crucified him. The most unjust act I have ever known. The darkness and the cruelty of those hours collapsed into the agony of an endless now. There were no future plans. There was no future. Yet when I heard the visceral howl that came from his mother, a sound to chill the earth in the depth of her refusal to be parted from him, her refusal to open up a space – when I heard that sound, I knew that there was one last thing that this poor cautious, wealthy and influential man could do. I told her that he could have my tomb. I would make the arrangements.