I have never given this ‘deposition’ - any thought before. Scripture tells this part of the ‘Stations of the Cross’ as stark and practical – a thing to be done –John 20 31-42. It is dark with casual violence. The bodies, including the body of Jesus, were like trash, offensive and of no value.
V. 31 – The Jewish leaders didn’t want the victims hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath… so they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down… when they came to Jesus they saw he was dead already, so they didn’t break his legs. One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear and blood and water flowed out. This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account; it is presented so that you also can believe…
Afterwards Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus… asked Pilate for permission to take Jesus’ body down… then… he came and took the body away. He enlisted the help of Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He came bringing 75 lbs of embalming ointment made from myrrh and aloes. Together they wrapped Jesus’ body in a long linen cloth with the spices as is the Jewish custom of burial.
The place of crucifixion was near a garden where there was a new tomb, never used before. And so, because it was the day of preparation before the Passover, and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
Matthew adds that they rolled a great stone across the entrance. And he adds that Mary, Jesus’ Mother was there.
Joseph of Arimathea took responsibility for the body of Jesus – I think of the phrase from a poem by Robert Hayden – this is indeed one of ‘Love’s austere and lonely offices’. With Nicodemus, who brought the heavy weight of spices with him, they cleaned and sweetened and covered the body of their Lord. They veiled him in linen, swaddled as he had been as a babe, and offered him to the earth in a freshly carved-out tomb.
The picture shows Mary, clad in the traditional blue, and I think of Christmas card pictures, the young woman, devout and committed, travelling to give birth. By now she will have been a mature woman, with all the responsibilities of family life, motherhood and widowhood as part of her experience. Now she is bereft of her first-born son, the one promised by an Angel, the one brought into being by the Overshadowing of the Spirit.
Her face lined, eyes sad, hair probably grey… she is unlikely still to be wearing the innocent blue of her maiden days. She has watched the terrible brutality, held up by her friends as her legs buckle beneath her with the agony. She has screamed. Maybe she even held her precious Son on her lap for a moment as the men lifted him down, in a ‘pieta’ that would have been far from beautiful.
The two men, no longer secret disciples, but openly proclaiming their allegiance to the new movement, even as it seems to have been beaten down for ever, step up to the mark. Mary takes John under her wing as a surrogate son… they go to their homes…
The sun sets and the day of waiting deepens their sense of mourning and their unbearable grief.
And yet… and yet… God is at work… a new day dawns…