When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.
William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“Christ in the Sepulchre Guarded by Angels’ is a rather wonderful picture by William Blake, painted in sepia tones about 1805. In it Christ is laid out much in the manner of the 19 h Century, with a cloth tied around his head and jaw, on a long stone bed that takes up the whole of the bottom edge of the picture; the cloth and his shroud are dull white. The hems of the two angels’ robes touch the head and foot of the stone, and the angels rise, bending forward, hands together in prayer, their wings coming together to a point at the top of the picture so that Jesus and the two angels, form a tall triangle. The angels are white, and behind their heads and hands are, a brighter white glow emanates over the sombre background, their faces focussed upon Jesus.
What is special to me is the sense of peace that pervades the whole; the faces and posture of the angels gently make you pause.
This is Easter Eve, the day between the anguish of betrayal, trial and crucifixion and the joy of Easter Sunday; sometimes it seems as if we are like children on Christmas Eve, just wanting to get the day over to get to the happy part. However, I believe that we lose out if we don’t give this day the dignity it deserves. It is a day that states unequivocally that Jesus did die; he died, and was laid in a tomb with reverence by Joseph of Arimathea. It was real death; the Gospel is at pains that we understand this, for how can we enter into the wonder of the Resurrection without acknowledging the agony of loss? It is also a day of quietness; think about Joseph of Arimathea; the two Marys, the disciples, stunned, perhaps remembering together what was, as we all do after a death, and it’s maybe this that makes us uneasy about this day. In our present society in general, we avoid thinking deeply about death, or we are perhaps carrying the pain of a bereavement in our own lives.
This is a day when we can reflect safely upon the mystery of death, and discover the peace that Christ can bring even in our deepest sorrow. Yet we make this day one of busyness – come on, the shops shut tomorrow! It’s a space to Get Things Done.
Well, work has to be done, but somewhere in the day, can you find some moments, no matter how brief, to reflect? Perhaps go back to the passage above and try to enter into the feelings of Joseph, or reflect on the picture, if you are a visual person, and just look at it; there is so much within. Time enough to leap with joy; today, with Jesus, with the angels, find quietness and peace.
Loving Lord God, in the quiet of this moment we seek your peace for those who, today, mourn; for those who, today, are disturbed by injustice done to others; for those who, today, long for joy and hope to fill their lives. Help us all to live this day fully in your peace. In Jesus’ name we ask it, Amen
The Rev’d Ruth Crofton is a retired minister and member of Waddington Street URC, Durham.