Grace and Mercy / John 19:38–42 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Friday April 2nd 2021 / Good Friday Holy Week / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Good Friday April 2nd 2021: Holy Week Season of Lent / John 19:38–42 "Grace and Mercy"
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away His body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. On Palm Sunday we heard that during Holy Week just days before the Passover “while [Jesus] was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper [there was] a woman [who] came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over [Jesus’] head [as He was reclining at table during the meal].” The Gospel of Mark continues saying that, “There were some [there] who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” [That’s basically a whole years wages and by the way five times what the Jewish leaders paid Judas to betray Jesus. Seeing this as a big waste] they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to Me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have Me. She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for burial.”
Now in the Gospel of John we hear how Mary, Lazarus’ sister did something very similar a little earlier in Holy Week pouring it on Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair, we also hear how at that earlier time Judas Iscariot had likewise said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” [St. John tells us that] He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. [Here too, like He would again later that week, Jesus says], “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” There is a lot going on with these accounts of Jesus having these ointments poured on His head and wiped on His feet and the easiest parts to pick up on, the parts that jump out at us first, are the complaints about waste of money, or the betrayal of Judas, but what about this … “Why were these two women doing this in the first place?”
Eventually, often early on in life, people begin to understand and know that everyone will die and that they themselves will one day die. I’m not sure exactly when that realization came to you, or even how often you contemplate it, (some think on this more than others) but you will have thought about it at some point. When a loved one is given a terminal diagnosis, like a cancer diagnosis, the clock starts ticking down and we begin to think about their impending death. These days with the threat of covid we walk around with death smothering our mouths and hooked to our ears, we wash death down the drain on bubbles of soap and we try and stay six feet away from it in public. And if someone we know; if a loved one, contracts covid we begin to worry that they may die, and sadly some people don’t recover. Here in Regina this is top of mind at the moment as our case numbers are the highest in the Province and the threat is greater than in other places. So death has been on our minds.
Now getting back to these two women and their anointing Jesus with ointment that first Holy Week; did you catch how Jesus relates these actions of theirs to His burial? Of the first woman He says, “She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for burial,” and concerning Mary, Lazarus’ sister, Jesus says that whatever she had left after pouring some of it on His feet and wiping it with her hair she should, “keep it for the day of [His] burial.” Here Jesus is talking about His death. Today, Good Friday, we hear the vivid account of His death, we think on it and what it means for each of us and for the whole world, but during that first Holy Week not everyone understood what was unfolding.
Pontius Pilate didn’t know what He was going to be wrangled into that Friday morning when he rested his head to sleep Thursday night. The people who had cut the palm branches and waved them, who threw their coats and cloaks along Jesus’ path as He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey at the beginning of the Week on Sunday shouting their load “hosannas” likely didn’t imagine that this same Jesus would be publicly crucified by Friday of that same week. The money changes of Jerusalem had counted their coins and set up their tables in temple just as they had done year in and year out for year upon year in preparation for the Passover crowds without any thought that Jesus of Nazareth would ride into town and turn over their tables and kick them out of the temple. On Thursday night as they walked down through the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives, carefully watching their steps in the dark on the way to the garden of Gethsemane to pray with Jesus, the disciples didn’t expect that those same feet would be running into the dark away from Jesus just hours later, fleeing for their lives.
The whole week was full of the unexpected, full of things unplanned for, yet God had a definite plan. Jesus knew what was coming and He had been teaching the disciples and those who followed Him about it: He had taught them that His death was coming. Many of them had been there when people from His home town of Nazareth had tried to throw Jesus off of a cliff, and they had witnessed men pick up stones to stone Jesus to death and in all of these instances Jesus walked away without a scratch. It was after one of these times, when Jesus was threatened by men wishing to stone Him to death that the disciple Thomas knowing the danger Jesus would face returning near to Jerusalem said “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” And Jesus had said to them on numerous occasions that He “must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed.” When He taught them this sometimes they were afraid to ask Him more about it, sometimes they said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
These two women with their ointments fit for burial, believed what Jesus said, and they also believed that He would actually die that very week. They had begun to mourn His death even before He died. This was part of what was happening as they poured the costly ointment on His head and wiped it upon His feet. They poured it on His head that would on Friday be crowned with thorns and wiped it on His feet that would on Friday be pierced by a Roman nail in crucifixion.
But why use the ointment to anoint Jesus’ body for burial before He’s even dead? Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse? What if Jesus didn’t die that week? He’d managed to avoid plots to kill Him before; maybe this time will be like those times? Perhaps this is what the disciples were thinking. Some have speculated that Judas thought this, that Judas had figured a new scheme for making money, offer up Jesus to His enemies, get paid in advance and then, watch Jesus slip through their fingers. How many times could he pull that off? Hard to know if this is what Judas was thinking or not, but with these women it isn’t hard to know what they were thinking. They knew how Roman crucifixions went, how they ended. When someone was crucified they were not normally given a decent and proper burial. In fact their naked dead body was often left to be eaten by stray dogs and carrion birds. So they didn’t expect that they would have a chance to anoint Jesus’ body for burial after His death if He was publicly crucified. And expecting the worst they did what they could do in advance. They lived their lives that week differently because they believed what Jesus said about His coming death.
We don’t live our lives expecting Jesus’ death. We are here remembering that He in fact did die, and we will be together again on Sunday remembering that He didn’t stay dead but was raised from the dead. We do however confess in the Nicene Creed that we, “look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” What we mean there is that we look for the return of Christ Jesus on the Last Day. The question is, ‘while we confess this future and final return of Jesus with our mouths, do we believe it with our hearts?’ ‘Do we live our lives as though Jesus is coming back this very week, this very day?’ ‘Are we doing all that we can, every day, for our friends and family and neighbours, so they too will see Christ’s return with joy and not terror, so they will bend their knee happily in praise and not bitterly with hate.’
Jesus, who became sin who knew no sin of His own, Jesus who died with the sins of the whole world upon Him, is shown mercy. The horrible thing that these two women knew could happen after His death, that Jesus might be left to decompose in the street something the people of Jerusalem had witnessed before, didn’t happen. In our reading today we heard how “Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away His body.” The thing that these women feared was avoided, even if they were not the ones that Friday doing it Jesus was being buried in a decent and proper way and not left to the elements and scavengers or anyone who wanted to further desecrate His body to humiliate Him beyond death. And St. John tells us that there was another man there with Joseph of Arimathea who, like the women had likewise believed in Jesus and what Jesus taught, this man was Nicodemus who earlier had come to Jesus by night. The one to who Jesus said “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God loved the world in this way, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Nicodemus saw these things come to pass and he “came [with Joseph of Arimathea] bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.” And St. John tells us that these two men did for Jesus what the two women feared they would not be able to do, “they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.”
This is grace and mercy: Grace and mercy to the Son of God who was shown blessed little grace and mercy as He was trialled and crucified and also grace and mercy to the two women with their ointments fit for burial. Mary the brother of Lazarus had witnessed Jesus raise her brother from the dead and she then may have had some hope that Jesus would not remain dead but that hope was dim, if not gone, in the hearts of His disciples.
Christians must live and die in hope. There is nowhere else to live nowhere else to die. When the World is at its darkest and death has encompassed us what else can we do but turn to Christ and trust in the grace and mercy of God. But in Christ we are also free to live our lives, even in the darkest of times, in the moment. We don’t need to fear the future for the future is in Jesus’ nail pierced hands. Even dead upon the cross the crown that shows Him to be the King of kings and Lord of Lords rests upon His holy brow. When Joseph and Nicodemus rolled the stone in front of Jesus’ tomb did they expect what was coming next?
Scripture teaches us that, “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” It was with mercy and grace that Jesus was laid to rest after His ordeal and brutal death and it is with mercy and grace that He will come to you in your hour of death, whether that death is expected or unexpected, and it is with mercy and grace that He will come to you when He returns again on the Last Day. You are forgiven for all the times you expected worse from life than what in God’s mercy was going to be permitted to happen; you are forgiven for all the times you put off to tomorrow what could have been done today; you are forgiven for all the times you failed to believe what Jesus taught, what Jesus said. All your sins, every last one of them, including any and all of these, are nailed there to the cross of Good Friday and they all died there with Jesus, your sins were buried with Him in the tomb and they stay there dead and buried. Jesus lives your sin is dead and buried. And now in Christ you are free to live. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Mark 14:3–8
 John 12:5–8
 John 11:16
 Mark 8:31–32
 Matthew 16:22
 John 3:14–16
 Psalm 103:8
Photo credits: Main Photo Jesus' Feet Crucified from pxhere; Detail of "The Ointment of the Magdalene (Le parfum de Madeleine)" by James Tissot from Brooklyn Museum; Grave Yard from unsplash; Pontius Pilate Stained Glass Window from pixabay; Jesus Crucified from pixabay; Jesus Crown of Thorns from unsplash; Christ Crucified from pixabay; Holding Jesus' Hand at the Cross from pexels; Jesus' Burial Stained Glass Window from unsplash; Stone Cross from pixabay; Edicule and Dome at Church of the Holy Sepulchre Over the Place of Jesus' Burial photo by Ted Giese.