Losing Hope

John 19:38-42  Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

When you’re losing hope, do the next possible faithful thing.

“What just happened?” Nobody really knew. It all seemed bizarre, as if out of a nightmare or horror flick. They had watched an innocent, charismatic rabbi die on a cross after an unusual and unfair trial. None of it seemed fair. There was no justice, only sadness. And disappointment. And fear-- there was plenty of fear. Fear for their lives, fear of what’s next, fear that God had indeed forgotten them and was not going to send a messiah after all. It seemed all hope was lost.

But life went on, as it always seems to do after traumatic events. The feelings and memories and sadness lingers, but the world keeps spinning. It seems crazy, unfair. But the Passover was coming quick. There were preparations to be made.

“What do we do now?” It was the question everybody was thinking, but nobody really dared to answer. Except Joseph of Arimathea. We don’t know if Joseph had ever encountered Jesus face-to-face as he traveled and taught; John tells us that Joseph had followed Jesus in secret. But he was probably just as shell-shocked as everyone else. He didn’t understand what had happened or what was going to happen. He wasn’t really a man of amazing faith. He only saw the lifeless body that lay hanging on the cross, a reminder of dead dreams and shattered hope and Godforesakenness. “What do we do now?” In the midst of despair and great personal risk, Joseph did the next possible faithful thing he could do. He stepped up from the crowd and was able to get permission to take Jesus’ body down from the cross. With the help of his friend Nicodemus, the Pharisee who had approached Jesus with his questions that night long ago, they were able to wrap and anoint the body sufficiently, which confirmed that Jesus was indeed dead. And they successfully placed the body in the tomb Joseph owned before sundown. 

What we don’t realize is that without Joseph, Jesus’ body would have been left by the Romans to rot for days, until it would be heaped in a pile with others and taken to the trash dump known as Gehenna. Had that happened, nobody would have visited a tomb. Nobody would have been able to confirm Jesus had risen or that his body hadn’t been stolen. What Joseph didn’t realize was that taking this action, doing what he could do in the midst of uncertainty, chaos, and hopelessness, would set the stage for making the most miraculous event of history undeniable. 

In the horrors of Good Friday and the desolation of Holy Saturday, we are Joseph. We live in a time where we encounter despair and tragedy and more questions than answers. Our circumstances may look hopeless, our faith wavers, and we may be unsure what God is doing. But we stand in the middle of a story that is not yet finished. Like Joseph, not knowing what’s up ahead or how God may use it, what’s ours to do is simply the next possible thing. 

For God, that’s always enough.

On Today's Road:  Today, sit in Holy Saturday. Don’t jump to Easter just yet. Take some time to put yourself in the place of the disciples, of Joseph, of Nicodemus. All you know is what you’ve seen—and it looks bad. What do you feel? What questions do you have? What would you do? If you're losing hope, what is the next possible, faithful thing for you to do in the “Holy Saturday” you’re facing in your life right now?