Joseph of Arimathea
When all of Joseph's tears were spent,
And all the secret love, long pent
Behind the bars of fear, was loosed,
And, like a swelling flood, reduced
This polished nobleman to sobs,
And left him weakened and with throbs
Behind his burning eyes, at last
He lifted up his hands and passed
His fingers up and down the stake
Where Jesus hung, as if to make
The gibbet like a lover's face,
And somehow feel the cost of grace.
The women watched behind the sword
And spear between them and the Lord.
And Mary Magdalene was on
Her knees with all her longings drawn
To Jesus, and, somehow, she feared,
To this strange person who revered
The Lord with fearlessness and pain.
Then Joseph stood and raised his plain
And heavy ladder high, and placed
It on the bloody beam, and braced
It just above the Savior's pale
Gray arm. He bound with rope the frail,
Limp body of the Lord on beam
And post. And then, against a scream
From Jesus' mother, stifled in
Her hand, he slowly cut through skin
And ligament beside the spikes
With heads made flat by many strikes
From Roman mallets. Then he clenched
The knife between his teeth and wrenched
Each hand of Jesus off its rough
And jagged nail through tendons tough,
But careful not to break a bone.
He came then to his feet. They'd grown
To twice their size with blood
And swelling. They were caked with mud
From walking barefoot to the place
Of execution. Joseph's face
Was ashen as he put his back
Between the women and the rack
Where Jesus feet were nailed. And when
He moved, the feet hung free. Again
He climbed the ladder, tied a rope
Around the Savior's chest, with hope
That it would bear the weight, cut free
The other cords, and tenderly
Began to lower Jesus to
all of this in view,
The sword and spear could hold their ground
No more; and Mary dashed around
The soldier, to the cross. And held
Her arms up toward the corpse, and smelled
The stench of death. But Joseph paused
With muscles taut. What if he caused
The death of this young girl? He saw
The soldier lift his spear and draw
His sword to threaten John and hold
Old Nicodemus back from bold
And reckless deeds. But then it seemed
She would be spared, and no one deemed
Her worthy of their vigilance.
But Joseph stared, as if a trance
Had gripped his mind. "Sir," Mary said,
"I just would like to keep his head
From lying on the ground." "You know,"
He said, "I think you'd better go.
If not, you'll be unclean tonight
When Sabbath comes. And I've no might
To save you from His enemies."
But Mary waved her hand, "O please,
Sir, even if a thousand men
With swords should come, not now or then
Would I depart and leave you here
With cords already cutting near
The bones in your strong hands, and see
The face of my king Jesus be
Defiled by lying in the dirt.
And as for me, I would invert
Your warning: Sir, if I should leave
My bloody Jesus here, and cleave
To law to make me pure, then I
Would be unclean with darkest dye,
Not just tonight but ev'ry day.
Sir, lower him to me, I pray."
And as the rope slipped through his hands
He said to her, "Your heart demands
An older frame than what I see.
You must have known much misery.
Your hardship has not been in vain;
God does not waste the gift of pain."
And as she cradled Jesus' head,
The man picked up the precious dead,
And just before the Sabbath day,
They carried Jesus Christ away.
By morning Joseph realized
That Caiaphas had prized
His death at twenty silver coins,
And so he girded up his loins
And fled Jerusalem before
The Sabbath dawn. For more
Than thirty days he hid alone
In Galilee. When it was known
That Jesus had appeared one day
Near Joseph's secret hideaway,
He took the risk, and found a crowd,
About five hundred strong, all bowed
In reverence before the Prince
Of life. He knelt, as once long since:
A distance far, yet good to gaze
Upon the man, that thirty days
Ago, he carried dead down to
His grave, and prayed it would be true
That he should live.
The Lord was silent. He could see
Across the field a man, and knew
That he must speak with him. And through
The crowd he walked, until he stood
By Joseph. Then he said, "I would,
Please, speak with you alone. Come, let
Us go apart." And there he set
His riven hands on Joseph's head,
And spoke this blessing: "I was dead,
And now I am alive with all
Authority, and there shall fall
Not one small word of what I say
Nor any purpose I display.
In ten days I will leave the earth
And then, ten more, and I will birth
A mission that can never fail,
Nor is there one with larger scale,
Nor ever will there be. And I
Will make the hearts of kings comply
For my renown, and pagan queens
Will yield to me in final scenes
Of death. And as my lifeless frame
You carried once, so now my name,
With that same courage, to the place
That I appoint, and with the grace
Of that same helper, Mary. Do
Not fear that she is young, and you
Are twice her age, or that she was
A concubine. I know these flaws,
And I have chosen her. She waits
For you outside the city gates.
And has a word from me for you
Now go and learn what you should do.
You will receive the pow'r you need,
And I will be with you. Godspeed."
In two days, Joseph came to her
And said, "Your hands still smell of myrrh."
She smiled, "So you were wrong that I
Would be defiled by touching my
Dead king." And Joseph marveled at
This maiden's youth and wisdom that
She carried in her soul. And then
He said, "I know that other men
Are younger, and there must be one
Whom you desire." She said, "No, none.
What I desire is Christ, and all
That he appoints for me. Befall
What may, I would be his, above
All others'." Joseph said, "And love?
Could you, then, fall in love?" "I could,"
She said, "if Jesus calls it good."
The silence was as full and deep
And rich as any words might reap.
"And you?" she asked. "I longed to see
You ev'ry day in Galilee,"
He said. "And I the same your face,"
She said, "here in this frightening place."
Then Joseph asked, "Did Jesus make
It plain to you the path we take,
And where we are to bear his name
The way we bore his lifeless frame
Together to the grave? He told
Me you would have a word. Be bold
Now, Mary, tell me where we are
To go." She said, "It will be far.
Nor will we ever come again
To Israel, he said, and when
One of us dies, the other will
Remain and do the mission till
We lie together in the grave.
He said that we should both be brave
And travel to the island of
Britannia and there to love
The tribe of Iceni and show
And teach them everything we know
the two were wed.
They packed what they could use, and shed
The rest among the poor, and sailed
With Christ into a future, veiled,
Three thousand miles away.
Ten fruitful years went by, and they
Were given two sons and a girl.
"Two jagged diamonds and a pearl,"
They used to say, until one day,
In winter time, God took it all away.
They couldn't keep the children warm
And all three died during a storm.
And now her husband trembling lay,
And Mary cradled him the way
She had the Christ, and saw the face
Of death. And when the final trace
Of life was gone, before she said goodbye,
She bowed her head and said, "Lord, why?"
And this time Jesus answered, "Breath,
Dear Mary, is a gift, and death,
Its measure on the earth. Not so
It is with life. Death does not show
The measure of a life, not length,
Nor breadth, nor depth, nor height, nor strength,
Nor its effect in twenty years,
Or centuries. All this appears
In coming days, and finally
In heaven, where no more you see
Through smoke and glass. But this much I
Will say: I mean to save, and by
Your word convert, a pagan queen.
And she will ask you if you've seen
Or tasted loss. And when you tell
Her of these days, the jaws of hell
Will shut without her soul, because
You still believe." A long, long pause.
Then Mary Magdalene replied,
"You mean, O Lord, my husband died
And all my children too, to free
A pagan queen from hell? I see."
She wrapped her husband in a shroud,
And then she knelt, kissed him, and vowed:
"I promise, since you can't remain,
I will not let you die in vain."
Nor now, as we light candle two,
Dare we to waste our grief, in view
Of this: The loss is what we see,
But seldom what the good may be.
A man can know the fruit of breath;
But only God the fruit of death.