the dead body of god: a meditation at jesus’ tomb

there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid jesus there.” (The Bible)

What to do with this? With the dead body of god?

We know it is finished. We know redemption has been bought, ransom paid, evil vanquished.

But here we have the dead body of god, carried by a man who until today had kept his following of jesus a secret out of fear, wrapped in spices and linen, and laid in a tomb.

What was he doing between now and Resurrection Day? Did his soul descend into hell and wrestle captive souls free? Did he rest? Did he … ?

We don’t know. he was dead. It’s a question I’ve been asked before, and each time I’ve replied as honestly as I can. I don’t know. We can’t. We’re not told. Maybe in eternity we’ll know; or maybe not, maybe god will choose to hold some parts of the story back from us just to keep us humble. We. Don’t. Know.

We want him to be doing something. Hence the tradition of jesus’ soul departing his body and freeing souls from hell. But there’s nothing to suggest that is so. This desire for jesus to be doing something even as he lies dead speaks to something deep and profound. It speaks to our desire to break awkward silences; to do something, anything in a moment of crisis; to make a joke to leaven the tension. It speaks to our desire that god always be in control – and for us, to be in control means doing something. No, this control exhibited from a lifeless body comes from the same sort of place which enabled him just yesterday to wrap a towel around himself and wash messy feet in the menial work of a servant.

In fact, the dead body of god here is in perfect keeping with the miracle of incarnation. From virgin tomb to virgin womb. The same jesus who takes a boy’s few loaves and fishes, blesses and breaks them and uses them to feed 5,000; the same jesus who sent his disciples out to herald the kingdom in need of food and a place to stay. In death he is carried, bound, silent and borrowing a virgin tomb.

We expend energy and money on grave-stones and memorials. What will it look like? What will it say? That speaks of our pretension, our desire to outlast. jesus has no control over any of that, speaking of both the temporary nature of this grave and the fact that for now he has nothing to contribute.

This silence, this coldness, offends us. We want to fill it, put a grid on it, explain it, tell a story in it. We can’t. he is dead. Totally, utterly, completely dead.

This day is a gift to us, stripping us of agendas and narratives and ideas and lists of things to do, confronting us with coldness and silence and death, daily realities for us all if we’re honest.

There’s been shouts of praise and crucify; of derision and agony; and there’s shouts of awe and resurrection to come. Shout we must. Shouting, though, needs silence. A constant register in the key of shout ends up as clanging gong, irritating and discordant. Sit in the silence awhile waiting, wondering, it instead becaomes a gift in itself; allowing us to hear the whisper of our name in the garden’s morning mist.

This post is an adaptation of the final meditation I gave from a Three Hours At The Cross service at St Peter’s Mowbray, Cape Town on Good Friday 2013.

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