After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Through a non-profit agency that advocates for children, I teach safety lessons, telling local elementary students that each of them is important and special, and adults have the job of keeping them safe. They also learn the disappointing truth that sometimes adults don’t do their job and abuse children. Most of the time, children know their abuser; often, the family does, too. Abusers use secrecy to continue their abuse. They may tell kids the abuse is their “special secret,” or they may threaten to hurt the child, or someone the child loves, if the child discloses the secret.
As children, we are taught both to be honest (admit when you colored on the wall) and that we should not always tell the truth (like if someone is “dressed funny”). What!? How do we decide? (We can teach children that surprises are OK, but secrets can be hurtful, and to tell a safe adult if someone tells the child to keep a secret.) As adults, we learn to put a brake on our tongue when a thought may be hurtful to another and we also may feel we need to hide (“secrify?”) experiences and issues like family discord, addiction, or mental health diagnoses. We expect that if people found out, it would hurt more, or the knowledge would hurt someone we love, and/or we would be negatively judged. We shove these secrets into our deepest and darkest corners, assuming we are burying them forever, but they arise in shocking ways and times.
While other gospels mention Joseph of Arimathea, John is the only gospel writer who tells us that this Joseph “was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews.” First, I wonder how one is a “secret disciple” … aren’t disciples supposed to acknowledge their leader and do what their leader does?
Then, I think about the times I try to quietly live my faith, in the background where most do not see. I listen to the voices of society that say, “Don’t make waves. Don’t upset anyone. Let others use their voices…no one wants to hear yours.…” Instead of following and acting like the one I proclaim as Lord, I let others be my leaders and realize that it is quite easy to be a secret disciple of Jesus!
Perhaps Joseph was doing the same: living his faith quietly, not making waves, not letting the other Pharisees know that he believed Jesus of Nazareth had a more godly way. Then came the shock of crucifixion. When some government and religious leaders tortured and killed Jesus, did Joseph then wish he had been more vocal? Did he wish he had ignored his fears that led him to secrecy?
It was too late for that, but now, he had to speak. He no longer would be silent and bravely asked Pilate for his leader’s dead body, to begin an appropriate burial. Permission was granted. His secret was out, and his voice was heard! He and Nicodemus then wrapped the body with linen and dozens of pounds of spices—enough for a king. In the future, would he say more?
God of love, on this dark day, I invite you into my darkness within: the grief, the shame, the hurt, the silence. Give me courage to ask for help and safe places to speak my secrets. Remind me that nothing can separate me from your love that is in Christ Jesus, my Lord. Help me to be a bold disciple, in his name. Amen.