Watching from a distance, two men, two secret followers: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. They come, to deal with death, on behalf of the family.
Like childbirth, handling the dead temporarily excluded you from the ritual community; because, important though ritual is in enacting life and death to us, like the Easter tomb it cannot contain actual life and death – not in its newest moments.
Joseph and Nicodemus come forward on behalf of Jesus’ family; but also to enact their own deaths, their dying to their community, to the very world that they have known. What they are doing here will cost them everything. As they take Jesus’ body, wash it, embalm it, and lay it in the tomb, they enact both their own death and their own undertaking – and as their own undertakers, no-one else is excluded on account of them.
Not only are they excluded from ritual community; they are excluded from it at its highest moment, the annual remembrance of how God delivered his people from slavery. In the rush of a mass people-movement, they are separated from their family, left behind. Once the dust has settled, they will still be slaves – for to celebrate Passover is not merely to recollect something that happened to other people long ago, but to enter-into the same experience.
And yet it is those who are slaves, who cry out to God to rescue them, whose cries reach up to heaven and are answered.
The wider community will go on to re-live the hard-heartedness of their ancestors, bitterly complaining that this freedom for which they have been set free is worse than slavery ever was. A generation will die in the desert. Only two men, Joshua and Caleb, will live to enter into the Promise…
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