Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid.
We are so used to tying the name of Jesus with concepts such as life, birth and eternity that it is difficult to think of him being dead. That is to say, a body with no movement or action, a brain with no thinking and a heart with no feeling. Jesus was supposed to be the light of the world. Death is the darkness of the world, the ultimate bottomless pit into which everything falls.
Since his death, Philip Larkin, the much loved poet, has become a bit of a national treasure. Like many others I love his poems and, quite surprisingly, find most of them understandable. He was, however, a dour and melancholic thinker and his melancholia is nowhere darker than in his words on life and death.
That this is what we fear – no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which no one can come round.
Or as Jesus said, ‘Father into your hands I commend my spirit.’
The centurion was moved, his followers watched from a distance and Joseph and Nicodemus step out of the shadows. They had both been rather ‘hidden away followers’ of Jesus. They lacked the courage to be out in public and both seem to have avoided the crucifixion but they found the strength from somewhere to step out and minister to Jesus in his death. (What a relief to know that we don’t all have to be bold and courageous all of the time.)
They laid him in the tomb and wrapped his body in pure linen cloths, which is exactly what Mary did when he was born. So Jesus left this life as he had entered it. Finally the boulder is rolled across the tomb’s entrance. Jesus is locked in, we are all shut out and no one then actually knows what goes on in that sealed space.
There is an old and wonderful idea that Jesus did not lie dormant but actually went to the place or the realms of death and set the dead free. It is called the ‘Harrowing of Hell’, the idea is of Jesus re-claiming lost people.
‘The day is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice.’John 5:28
‘He went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey.’1 Peter 3:19
In all of this the tomb is like a Tardis. It is bigger and with more happening on the inside than the outside.
Time and space are seen to be relative and fluid, not absolute and standing still, Einstein would have loved it.
Here is the big question:
When you think about death are you with Philip Larkin or with Jesus Christ?
You are Lord of the past, present, and future.
You are the one who lights up the darkness,
You are Lord of day and night,
Of life and death.
So may you help us to place our hope and trust in you,
All our days.