Good Friday

The Thirty-Ninth Day, Good Friday

Honore Daumier's We Want Barabbas (or Ecce Homo), ca 1853-59

Mark 15:46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud and, taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of rock; and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.

Today all times collide.  Today all stories are the same.  It was a Friday then.  It is a Friday now.  We call them both by the same preposterous name: Good.

What once was, now–by the mystery of the holy story faithfully and fearfully remembered–is:

Joseph has unrolled a linen cloth and laid it on the ground.  It is close-woven and white.  It is longer than the human frame and twice as wide.  It is a shroud.

He has leaned a ladder to the back side of the cross.  He has climbed the ladder.

Now he draws ropes around the chest, beneath the shoulders of our Lord and over the beam of wood.  He throws the loose ends down to the centurion facing him.  With a sudden force–and with anguish that there must be force–he wrenches the spikes from the crossbar.  The left one:  the body of Jesus swings wide away and hangs from one arm.  The right:  the body slumps.  The ropes go taut.  The centurion has one in each hand.  Joseph whispers, “Wait,” descends, then stands below the slouching corpse, below the rain of the dead man’s hair.  He applies himself to the spike through the heels.  The legs drop.

“Now,” he whispers.  With his left arm he is hugging Jesus at the knees.  “Lower him.”

Rembrandt; Descent from the Cross, 1634, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

By sad degrees as the Roman pays out rope, the body sinks, shoulders hunched to the ears, Jesus resistless. Joseph receives the torso on his right arm.  The head falls back.  The mouth opens.  The eyes are lidded, blind.  The hair rains at Joseph’s elbow.  Jesus is gaunt.  As light as an empty scrip.  The body without the sounding breath is light and so pitifully little.  Joseph keels and lays him on the shroud and begins to wind the linen around him for burial.

Somewhere a woman delivers a long, soft, terrible sight to the world.  Who is that?

The door of the tomb is a hole in stone no higher than a human waist.  Joseph enters backward, bent down, bearing the shoulders of Jesus.  The centurion, on his knees, keeps the legs from dragging dirt.

“Thank you,” says Joseph. His voice echoes in the hollow rock.  “Thank you. This is enough.”  He disposes the body alone, then, and emerges into the darker part of evening.  The sun has set.  The sky is empty.  the air is absolutely still.

There is a descending groove in the stone ledge below the sepulcher’s door.  Joseph rolls a flat stone down this groove.  A single, slow revolution will bring it flush to the hole.  No animals will desecrate this body.

There are two sounds in the dusk:  the grinding of stone in stone–and once more the soft sigh, a low, compulsive, wordless sigh.  Who is that?

Then the door is closed.  The deed is done.  It is finished.

+   +   +

That sigh was me, Lord.

That weeper is me, the twentieth century me, attending your burial.  Your dying is never far away nor long ago, but always as close as my own.  I cry for the sorrow of being at your death.

But I cry also in gratitude that you will be at my death, O my Savior–and that, though I can only cry for yours, you rescue me from mine.


From Reliving the Passion, by Walter Wangerin Jr., Zondervan 1992, pages 148-150

About abiggerworldyet

Visual Artist Brother Sojourner College Professor Christ follower
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