“But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe… And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.” John 19: 34-42
First let’s get the narrative down: I include the piercing of Jesus’ side once again, not only because of the spiritual meaning, but this time because it is final evidence of his death. And shortly after that, Pilate received another delegation of Jews. The first delegation placed before him a request that the wording of the superscription be changed and Pilate, plainly refusing, sent them away. To this final request we have no recorded reply, but Pilate without hesitation agreed to have the body of our Lord removed from the Cross in order that two secret disciples, or at least two decent men, may give him a burial fitting for a Jew and some dignity shown to this man in whom Pilate could find not guilt. All four Gospels identify Joseph of Arimathaea as the secret disciple who was emboldened to beg for the body of Jesus. Only the Beloved Disciple mentions Nicodemus, the teacher of the Jews:
“And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night…”
This as you know is the Nicodemus to whom our Lord delivered the teaching concerning the new birth and it seems possible that there were other meetings between the two. He is identified as the one “which at first came to Jesus by night,” but whether there were other meetings or not what is clear is that Nicodemus was moved apparently by Joseph’s example to join him and to bring a gift of 100 pounds of spices. Which spice and aloes conjure up for us the sweet-smelling odor of our Lord’s holiness and love — which went forth through out the whole world from the sacrifice of the Son of God. Together these two well know men of Jerusalem removed our Saviour from the Cross. That is either they did it themselves or they directed the soldiers to do it. What they did they did with the utmost care and respect. They wrapped, bandaged, his dead body in the linen strips, new linen strips, and covered each layer with a thick mixture of the aromatic spices, probably mostly myrrh. And this they did with the public knowledge of the local people living in Jerusalem and especially of the grateful Church. And when they had finished they took him only a short distance from the cross and laid him in a new tomb cut in a rock. So this means that Jesus was buried in the same place where he was crucified:
“Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre…”
The purpose of God emerged to finality, once again in a garden, where he was crucified he was buried, and where he was buried there his body rested upon a stone grave, ready for his rising in the same garden. Note especially the Church’s love for the body of our Lord.
I have made a statement several times — “the flesh of Jesus is the place of judgment.” The flesh of Jesus is the place of judgment and now where is that more perfectly shown to the world than in this garden of death that shall become a new garden of life. There is no abstraction here. You may ask, rightly, “how is the flesh of Jesus the place of judgment?” What you will see is that the flesh of Jesus is about substance, time, place, and conflict, resolution, peace, and love. The text for today is the perfect instantiation of what it means to say, “The flesh of Jesus is the place of judgment.” Jesus was dead. His disciples had scattered. What other than love moved Joseph and Nicodemus to give him a dignified burial? What other than love would move the women to come as early as possible after the passing of the Sabbath to anoint his dead body of flesh with sweet spices?
This is the narrative. When Jesus stood before John the Baptist as a man of flesh and John very reluctantly baptized him and John saw heaven open up and the Spirit of God in the form of a dove came down and remained upon Jesus. Thus God the Father passed judgement on Jesus visibly at a specific time and in a specific place as the Holy Spirit lit upon his body. Jesus stood before the Masters of Israel and declared that his body was the finality of the Temple of God. Now the people of God may come face-to-face with God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the flesh of Jesus. Nicodemus, a Master of Israel, came to Jesus but as an unbeliever though Christ disclosed not only his divinity to him, but also that his flesh nailed to the cross would draw the whole world to himself. Nicodemus passed the judgment of unbelief upon Jesus. Weary in his body, Jesus asked a Samaritan woman for a drink of water to slake his thirst. Her belief in the man of flesh is her judgment and scores, maybe hundreds of her fellow Samaritans came to Jesus. Jesus was loved and cherished by Mary who anointed his feet of flesh with her spikenard and wiped his feet with her hair establishing his flesh as the place of her judgment — his first anointing for his burial. Jesus was scourged and his torn flesh is the place of God’s judgment against the Masters of Israel and against the pomp of Caesar. When he was nailed to the cross his flesh was the place of final judgment against all sin and unbelief. And when he was raised bodily from the dead his flesh became the place of final judgement against death and hell itself:
“Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
The flesh of Jesus is everything. But not to everyone. Every lasting narrative has conflict and the same is the case for the Gospel of John. In the waining years of the Beloved Disciple’s life there was a movement of progressives, super-spiritual priests and probably bishops who had brought into the Church a destructive and viral teaching. This is likely the Beloved Disciple’s motivation for writing the Fourth Gospel as well as the three Epistles of John. John described these new teachers as false prophets and anti-Christs — plural. These progressive priests were scandalized by the older teaching of the Apostles and their fixation on Jesus Christ as a concrete, historical man of flesh. The super-spiritual party believed in the Logos and something like a “Christ-principle” — as long as the Church was free from history. (But neither the Church nor Israel has ever been free from history. The Bible begins, at the very beginning, looking toward to the Kingdom of God to come.) Human flesh was not merely embarrassing or meaningless to the progressives, flesh clogged up, occluded the free movement of the Spirit of God. So John lays it on the progressives from the very start:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”
The flesh of Jesus is everything. It is the concrete human flesh of Jesus Christ our God that requires from then on that God’s own story, God’s autobiography, must be a story, a narrative of time and place, detail and activity. And since his flesh is the place of judgment and decision and benediction, our flesh, in imitation of Christ our God, becomes the place of Christ’s judgment as well as benediction. How?
There was a bishop around the year 100 AD named Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch. When he was 84 years-old he was arrested and condemned to die in the colosseum in Rome as a demonstration of Caesar’s universal lordship. Though Caesar thought he has summoned Ignatius to Rome to die by wild beasts, Ignatius interpreted his situation differently. Ignatius believed he had been summoned to become the place, that his flesh would become the place, where the beauty and glory of the Church of Jesus Christ would be made visible — right at the center of all earthly and satanic power. If Ignatius’ peace and poise was disturbed at all, it was over his concern that he would not have the courage to live up to Christ’s love. Or that some well-meaning and well-positioned Christians in Rome might get him set free. He wrote to the Romans:
“It is as a prisoner of Christ that I hope to meet you and we are off to a good start! May I have the good fortune to meet my end without interference! What I fear most is your generosity which may prove detrimental to me. If you let me alone people will see in me the Word of God. But if you are enamored by my flesh, it will result only in noise.”
Ignatius stood “within the orbit of biblical, historical theology” — and this is important: he is not standing in Palestine or Jerusalem, but in Asia and eventually in Rome where he dies in the colosseum. Here is the point: wherever he is standing Ignatius takes his impending martyrdom to be a theological, Christian event, a visible revelation of the Logos that virtually throbs with eternal significance for himself and the whole Church of God. His flesh becomes the place of judgement not merely against Caesar, but his flesh is the place of judgment for and in the love of Jesus Christ and his Bride. And here is the point I wish to make: what is true for Ignatius’ flesh is true for your flesh and my flesh as well.
In a few minutes I will pray the words of the mass:
“And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and our bodies , to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee, that we and all others… may be made one body…” with thy Son Jesus Christ.”
If Jesus’ flesh is the place of judgment, then Ignatius, the Bishop of Syria — his flesh is also the place of judgment — therefore all who are baptized into Jesus — your flesh, my flesh, the flesh of every Christian becomes the place of judgment as well as the place of benediction. All flesh is spiritual. All flesh is sacred. All flesh is holy. All flesh is destined to break into blossom in the hands of Christ our Lord.