April 19, 2019 Never Too Late — Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
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Near the end of the gospel reading, John writes these words: “After these things….” After Jesus had been betrayed and falsely accused. After Jesus had been tried in a secretly-convened court and convicted without a single credible witness against him. After Jesus had been sentenced to a cruel and shameful death. After his own people had denied him the pardon offered by Pilate. After he had been mocked and beaten. After Jesus’ body had been nailed to the cross, in the company of criminals. After he had breathed his last breath…
After all those things, Joseph of Arimathea, who counted himself a disciple of Jesus, but had been keeping it a secret, because he was so afraid of being rejected and ridiculed – or worse – after all these things, Joseph came forward, publicly, to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body. He even offered the tomb he had had prepared for his own burial, newly carved into the rock in a garden.
And, after all those things, Nicodemus, who had visited Jesus secretly by night to learn from him, even though he was a Pharisee himself, and a member of the ruling body of Jews responsible for the whole terrible course of events in these days – after all those things, Nicodemus came publicly forward with Joseph, carrying 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes and everything that was needed to prepare Jesus’ body for an honorable burial.
Here at the end of everything, these two men overcame their terror and their shame, and came boldly forward to declare themselves disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. You might say that they had nothing to lose at that point. It was all very well for them to make their allegiance public now, when Jesus no longer posed a threat – either to the Jewish hierarchy, or to the Roman authorities. On the other hand, you might also say that they had nothing to gain at that point. The crowds who had been following Jesus had turned against him at the last, and his faithful disciples had mostly run away to save their own skins. The only ones left to mourn at the foot of Jesus’ cross were Jesus’ youngest friend, John, and a few women.
There was nothing to be gained now, by honoring the dead body of this one who’d raised the hopes of the poor and the sick and the hopeless among the people. There was no reason now for these two well-respected Jewish men to risk public censure or ridicule or rejection by coming out in public in the fading light of that Friday, carrying the bloody and lifeless body of Jesus between them, anointing it with enough spices and ointments for a king, and laying it tenderly in a tomb. There was no reason at all to do any of these things – no reason other than love.
But wasn’t it too little, too late? What good could it possibly do to show love to this man now, when his life had already been destroyed forever? Something had happened to these two men, some transformation. Finally they were men of courage, finally their faith was bold enough to stand the light of day. Finally they could do what they should have done long before, no matter what would come of it. But was it already too late?
And don’t we often feel that same fear and doubt in the face of our own feeble faith and failure to do what we know we ought to do? We know that we have grown in our faith over the years, but sometimes it seems like our progress is too slow to make any difference at all. We confess our failures, and apologize, and do all we are able to do to make amends – but so often our best efforts just feel like they’ve come too late.
Our failure is a done deal, and no matter how much we wish we could go back in time and have a do-over, to UNdo what we have stupidly or wickedly or thoughtlessly done that we ought not to have done, or to DO what we were too timid or cowardly or mean-spirited to do when we should have done it, it just doesn’t work like that. Time goes only one way, and we can never go back and make things all right. It’s too late.
When we feel like that, we need to hear the truth that Joseph and Nicodemus were about to learn. On the first Easter Sunday, Joseph and Nicodemus were going to understand for sure that their faith and their offering of love hadn’t come too late at all. Because the truth of the cross is, that it isn’t limited by things like human weakness or the natural flow of time. The work of Jesus Christ on the cross has the power to make us – we who are stained blood-red in our shame and regret and hatefulness – to make us as pure and white as snow. No matter what we have done. No matter what we have failed to do. Even after all these things. Because it is never too late for us to come to the cross.
John has recorded in his gospel how these two men, Joseph and Nicodemus, grew in their faith and in their relationship to Jesus, little by little, step by timid step, from hiding in fear to openly proclaiming their faith. And when their hearts had grown courageous and strong enough at long last, it wasn’t too late. They were the very ones the Father had appointed to take the body of his Son down from the cross and into their arms. Because after all those things Joseph and Nicodemus were exactly where and who God was calling them to be.