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Matthew 27:57-66

By the end of our text everything that can be said has been said, and everything that can be done has been done. At least, all that can be said or done by human actors.

Some have accused Jesus of attempting to accomplish things he has no business taking into his hands. They have charged him with explaining things way beyond his station and capacity. They have even claimed Jesus made these mistakes on such a massive scale he warranted the accusation of blasphemy.[1] In our time we might call it egregious and deadly negligence. The one some believe brought reason and love to bear on the actual events of this world has been, by others, mocked as a charlatan, brought to trail, found guilty, and put to death. The latter group has made a powerful case.

So even Jesus, it seems, has done and said all he had to do and say. For Jesus’ followers, this is Holy Saturday. It is when the one we confess is the rationality and heartbeat not just of corporate visions or healthy relationships, but the reason and heartbeat of every dimension of reality itself is still and silent. If any day would tempt the Body of Christ to get swept up in so much of the contemporary mood and join the voices saying, “Who can really say or do anything anyway?” it is today, when the Word lies in the tomb.

So, at this point, the church too has nothing left to do or say. It is a trying and intimidating time, but it is important the church reach this point if we are going to live the fullness of the gospel story. So how do we enter Holy Saturday? This passage guides us to see reaching this point is not merely a matter of giving into current moods or philosophies of hopelessness or absurdity or violence. Even at this impossible stage, we follow the example of the disciples Matthew presents as exemplary.

One is Joseph of Arimathea. He comes out of nowhere in Matthew’s narrative – that is part of what makes him exemplary. It is not just his surprise appearance, but precisely when he comes out of nowhere that shows us what the church can do in times like this. Joseph publicly declares – with action – his allegiance to Jesus at a moment when Jesus cannot help Joseph achieve his goals or gain status or even interpret the Scriptures. Given that Jesus was just executed because of the threat he posed to those in power, Joseph aligning himself with the executed criminal now risks his reputation, his position on the council (Sanhedrin), and probably even his life. All just to show he is with Jesus and give him a dignified burial.

In light of his actions at this exact point, we must ask, “Why? Just what would or could bring him to do something like this?” From so many ways of evaluating Joseph’s actions, they make no sense. Not now. Unless somehow even while crucified and condemned, Jesus is worth more than all Joseph is risking.

Matthew also shows us a couple disciples sitting across from the place Joseph laid Jesus. We are told it was an “unused” tomb. So, unlike some of the other graves they could have watched on that day, which were family tombs holding numerous corpses and sets of bones, Mary Magdalene and Mary sat across from a tomb holding only Jesus’ body. Watching. Waiting. Staying close. Identifying with him, or at least, for now, his body.

I should mention one other group being drawn toward Jesus even now, and I have saved the strangest (and most compelling) for last: According to Matthew 27:52, other Holy Ones – tradition says Old Testament saints – are alive and waiting in their own tombs.

It is strange – always, but especially now – how Jesus pulls people together, even his enemies. The chief priests and Pharisees were not friends, but with Jesus as a common threat, they plot to do what they can to keep him put down. Then they go to Pilate – certainly their enemy – for help. Pilate continues to waver and play the angles. A guard is posted and the tomb is sealed. The other side is still doing and saying what it can.

And in each word spoken or moment held in silence … in each action taken or event of stillness … faith is being directed somewhere.

Many enter this day by enacting their most powerful case that we either find a different way to God, or dispense with God altogether and take matters into our own hands.

The church enters Holy Saturday by doing and saying all we can, affirming our best efforts are indeed necessary. But also by learning, to our surprise, that our best efforts are the ones that lead not to triumphant victory by a direct route but to a place where we face the harsh fact that all we can do and say will not fix the world or guarantee our safety and victory. We enter this day as we learn our “best” efforts and words are those that genuinely align us with Jesus, even in the face of defeat. We enter this holy day at the end of our efforts, and learn their true goal all along was to bring us, with Joseph and Mary and Mary, to a place where we too can truly wait and watch in faith and hope and anticipation with the saints in the tombs. What the church has done and said has prepared us to do nothing but what allows us to identify with Jesus and wait on God to see if God proves faithful and powerful even beyond/over death.

Welcome to Holy Saturday. It is a strange day.

And then another strange thing begins to appear: seen from another angle, if things do play out a certain way, the church and the world have been unknowingly working together. Because with the church positioning Jesus in a place by himself, keeping watch and looking to him alone, and the world putting him to death, sealing the tomb, and placing a guard, if something were to go down, there would be no question whether this was in fact the tomb in question or if it was Jesus’ body or another that left the grave behind.

The actions and words of no human agent – neither the church nor the world – have fixed the real problems. But if the Tomb is shown to be Empty, there will be not doubt who has the words of life and has made a way through Death.

[1] Matthew 9:1-8; 26:65; and elsewhere.