Hebert Fingarette taught philosophy at the University of California for many years. He wrote several books on a range of subjects including death. In his book on death, he stated that you should not be afraid, concerned, or anything about death. You are not going to suffer after you die, he asserted, because you will not exist then.
Fast forward twenty years later. Fingarette’s grandson made a short documentary on his at that time 97-year-old grandfather. While Fingarette says in most of his books he feels he resolved the subject matter, he no longer feels that way about death. “It haunts me, the idea of dying soon, whether there’s a good reason or not,”the older, wiser Fingarette confesses.
There is nothing pleasant about death. There was nothing pleasant about Jesus’ death. That is what makes what Joseph of Arimathea did for Jesus’ body so profound.
Ordinarily, the body of someone crucified would have been left on the cross or thrown down to the ground by the Roman soldiers to allow nature to take care of the corpse. Jewish law would not allow that. Pilate, knowing this, likely had procedures in place to have the bodies of Jews who were crucified buried in a common grave.
That was not good enough for Joseph of Arimathea. He asked Pilate for Jesus’ body. Pilate gives him it. Joseph provides a tomb, but not any tomb, a new one. To provide such for a non-family member was gracious. To provide a new tomb – one no one had ever been placed in before – was an exceptional act of goodwill. Joseph’s actions go well beyond Jewish piety. Joseph gave Jesus the very best burial he could afford. (Matthew 27:57-61)
Certainly, God was behind all this, preparing for what would come next – the empty tomb (Matthew 28:1-10). However, we ought not to overlook the actions themselves.
Joseph of Arimathea did the best he could. He provided a burial for his dear friend and master. We do not know what kind of hope he had, but something moved him to do this. This secret disciple of Jesus now, at such a time as this, ironically makes his faith in Jesus public (John 19:38).
If Jesus gave him enough hope to do at least what he did – in that hour of deepest darkness – how much more hope do we have, knowing the rest of the story, even in the moments of our own lives when it seems the darkness has won.