Joseph of Arimathea

Part 1

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The evening sky behind the cross
Was crimson as if all the loss
Of blood from Jesus' veins had spread
Across the heavens like a red
Stain lifted from the earth. The Lord
Hung limp and cast a shadow t'ward
Jerusalem. Joanna and
Salome and the little band,
Who had the stomach and the strength
To bear the sight and stay the length
Of eight, long, bloody hours, stood
And wondered what to do, and would
It be permitted if a friend
Or family should make an end
Of this grim spectacle before
The holy Sabbath hid the gore
With evening gloom. A soldier kept
His watch to see that no one crept,
In secret, to the cross to pay
Some final tribute, or to play
The fool with corpses and pretend
To worship Him whom God condemned.

But Mary Magdalene could not
Endure another hour of what
She saw as cowardice. "This was
The Lord!" she thought. "And just because
Of fear, would they ignore his shame?
Where were the men? The blind, the lame,
The deaf that he had healed? And where
This Rock who would not run or spare
His own sweet life, but die with Him?
Where now this boast? This fair-sky whim?
Is there no man with courage in
Jerusalem, or who had been
With Jesus long enough to know
His worth?"

Just then, against the glow
Of crimson skies, she saw a man.
He came along the path that ran
Up from the garden where the rich
Have tombs—as if a costly niche
Of stone or clay might cool the heat
Of hell or make our heav'n more sweet.
He dragged a ladder with his hand
Behind him on the path. A band
Of linen, beautiful and fine,
Hung folded on his back, with twine
Bound fast to keep it off the ground.
The soldier gripped his spear and frowned,
"And what are you about to do?
I have my orders and will run you through,
If you but touch the crucified."
The women held their breath, and tried
To see if there was any dread
In this man's face. "You could be dead
With one more step," the soldier said,
And pressed the sharp and pointed head
Of his long spear against the chest
Of Joseph. Slowly Joseph pressed
A parchment in the soldier's hand
To read. He stared: "You took your stand
In Pilate's court for this? Man, you're
A fool. You think you'll be secure
To walk the streets of Zion if
You treat him like a king? One whiff
Of this before the Jewish Court,
And they will make more vicious sport
Of you than him." He pointed to
The middle cross. "Perhaps. And you?"
He asked the guard, "How will you fare
When Caesar nor his realm is there,
Nor Pilate, nor the Council of
The Jews, but only Christ, above
The earth and sovereign over all
The courts, both great and small?"
As Joseph climbed the final mound
To reach the cross, the daring sound
Of his bold words, pierced Mary's heart
As nothing ever had - the start
Of something that would last for ten
Short, happy years. No other men
Had ever wakened what she felt,
Inside, when Joseph slowly knelt
Alone before the crimson cross
And wept. How could a man the loss
Of his whole life imperil by
Courageous words, then kneel and cry
Like this?

It hadn't always been
This way with Joseph. Once, the sin
Of fear had almost total sway
In Joseph's life. From children's play,
Through teenage years, to high respect
On the Sanhedrin, ruled unchecked
The heart of fear. He was a rich
And pampered child. The rod and switch
Were never used. His parents bought
Him everything he liked, and sought
To make him safe with what their wealth
Could buy. They were convinced that health
And everything their son would need
Could be supplied with riches. Freed
From poverty he would be free
Indeed. But it was not to be.
No toys, no trips, no clothes, no horse,
No priv'leged schools could be the source
Of peace, much less of bravery.
He dreamed of exploits on the sea
When he was young, and in the isles
Untamed, unclaimed, three thousand miles
Away. But then the fears would rise,
The way a nightmare terrifies,
And he would settle back to known
And common ways. When he was grown,
The bondage was complete. He dared
Not marry, lest it fail; and, scared
Of ev'ry craft and trade, he leaned
Instead on wealth, and lived unweaned
From all the worries of the world,
And yet, with childish fingers curled
Around the dream that some day he
Might have a lion-heart set free.

And then one day, when Joseph, near
To forty years of age, began to hear,
The Christ had come, he paid a friend
To take him to a meadow's end
Where he could hear the Lord, but not
Be seen. And there the stubborn blot
Of bondage to a life of dread
Was washed away as Jesus said,
"Look at the birds, they neither sow
Nor plow, nor reap, nor make a stow
Of wealth in barns, and yet God feeds
Them all. Are not your simple needs
Well known to Him, before you ask?
And is it not your toil and task
On earth to trust your Father's care?
Does he not number ev'ry hair?
And don't you sell two sparrows for
A cent, yet God does not ignore
Their life, and not one falls except
He wills? And shall you not be kept
Because you are more precious than
The birds? Does worry pay, or can
You add a cubit to your length
Of life? Does fear increase your strength?
Consider how the lilies grow.
They neither toil nor spin, but O
How beautiful their brilliant dress
In spring! Nor did God ever bless
A king in all his wealth like this.
O do not ruin childlike bliss
By fretting over what you wear
Or eat or drink. These are a snare;
And all the world who turn away
From God seek these. But you, I say,
Seek first his kingdom, seek his rule
And sway and righteousness, and you'll
Be given all the rest. The strife
Appointed for tomorrow's life,
Put safely in tomorrow's place.
Then bear it with tomorrow's grace."
And as the sun set on the field
Where Jesus spoke, a rich man kneeled,
And put his faith in God.

Three years
Went by and all of Joseph's fears
Began to fall away, except
For one: the secret that he kept
From the Sanhedrin, that he was
A follower of Christ, because
It was his glory and renown
And known in ev'ry Jewish town
That Joseph ranked among the one
And seventy, and there was none
More highly honored in the hall
Than he. But now the horrid call
Was ringing in his ears. The voice
Of Caiaphas: "It is your choice,
Sanhedrin, is this blasphemy
Or not? This Jesus that you see
On trial says he's the Christ, the Son
Of God. We need no witness. Done!
What say you?" All the voices cried,
Aloud, "Let him be crucified!"
But one. His eyes were fixed on Christ,
And Christ's on his. And that sufficed.
The final chain was broken. He
Was free. He rose for all to see.
A hush fell on the Council room,
And everyone turned from the doom
That they had spoken over the
Accused, and looked to see
What Joseph's rise and silence meant.
He spoke, "My brothers, I dissent."

And now as Mary watches there
This man beneath the cross in prayer,
This wealthy, weeping, fearless man,
Come, join this woman if you can.
And stand in awe of what you see:
A man, enslaved to fear, set free.
Let candle one now softly speak
Of birds and lilies, fragile, weak,
Like us and Jesus hanging there,
And of the Father's costly care.
Be done with all anxiety,
And in its place now let there be
At Bethlehem no faithless fear,
But broken-hearted boldness here.