As long and, at least in places, ponderous as the Bible might seem, narratives tend to move at a breakneck pace.
Passages of time are noted but not inhabited with detail, as when the Apostle Paul rattles off years spent here and there as mere background to a couple of weeks of church meetings in Jerusalem.
Mark’s report of Jesus’ burial breezes through minutes and hours that must have dragged like days for the devastated disciples. Jesus had been dead for some time, according to the Roman officer’s report to the Governor. In fact, evening had come and the human debris of the grim business commenced that morning had hung on the cross for the better part of a day.
Dragging hours in which Peter hid out with the nauseating knowledge that he’d denied knowing Jesus and, by staying away from the cross, continued to abandon him.
The better part of a day in which every second was infused with pain for Mary, who watched her son suffer and die, and helpless John, tasked with comforting her while agonizing over the loss of his beloved friend.
Motionless minutes of emptiness and humiliation for disciples who had expected Jesus to change their world, staked their futures on him, and now sat as losers, eventually shuffling home because there was nothing else to do.
Then there was Joseph of Arimathea. He was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. But somehow, his adrenaline didn’t crash. He went boldly to Pilate to claim the body of Jesus for burial. Joseph seemed to know that God’s game wasn’t over, that even in the shadows the kingdom was advancing.
Joseph must have been pacing and muttering, because it took time for the Romans to process his request. The Governor, Pilate, was surprised that Jesus was dead, crucifixion being a Roman method for making terminal pain linger. So he sent for the Officer of the execution detail. We are used to rapid fire communication – in our day Pilate could text the Centurion,
Pilate: INRI ?
But that day in Jerusalem would have required an aide to go find the Centurion, possibly in another part of the city, and then bring him back to Pilate, while Joseph waited and night set in.
The long hours of Good Friday and Holy Saturday replay in Christian lives today. We enter them in the grinding days and seasons in which our God seems hidden if real at all. Our questions and prayers seem to go unanswered. The evil in ourselves and our world runs amok. The habits of prayer and worship leave us cold.
Yet the powerless passivity of Jesus on the cross and in the tomb are written into our affirmative statement of faith, the Apostles Creed,
[Jesus Christ] suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
Intriguing that the Creed shifts from the passive voice – Jesus was buried – to the strange activity of He descended to the dead.
To meditate on Jesus in the tomb is to join with Joseph of Arimathea in expectation and boldness, lugging what feels like a powerless Savior in a cold cave on a dark night, still believing that something is up.
It is to hold onto the possibility that God is advancing the kingdom in us even when the grim hours drag on and on.