But Where Were the Disciples?

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (15:43-16:8)

At times the Holy Scriptures and the New Testament are just as powerful for what they leave out, or what they don’t say, as for what they do say. Here is an example: nowhere in the Scriptures or the New Testament does anyone refer to God as “Mother.” Another example: nowhere in the New Testament or the 4 gospels does anyone refer to Holy Communion as a symbol. These are simple but powerful examples of how the word of God speaks to us and if we choose to add or subtract from the text, we are doing a grievous thing because it is no longer the word of God, it becomes the word according to our imagination.

Today we continue our celebration of Pascha, Easter, the resurrection of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. As you know this celebration continues for 40 days until we celebrate the feast of Ascension. The Church continues to focus on the resurrection of the Lord in the gospel text this week and we hear about the pious Joseph of Arimathea, whom we are told was a respected member of the council (likely the council of Sanhedrin). This man does what would have been unthinkable to the logical and rational mind. He went to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and requested the dead body of the Lord Jesus so that he could see to His proper burial.

Why is this unthinkable, illogical and irrational? Because it was an act of respect and love towards a man who was just betrayed by the Jews and was just executed by the Romans. When someone is hated and despised by the people and when that person is put to death, we would expect that everyone would scatter and go their separate ways. Yet we are told that Joseph took courage! He went directly to Pilate with complete disregard for his own safety and with disregard for how he might be viewed by the rest of the Jews including his own council. Such was this man’s love for God and for the Lord, His only begotten Son. Such was this man’s desire to show mercy to the One who had poured out mercy on thousands upon thousands of people who had flocked to Him during His three year ministry.

But as I told you at the beginning, the New Testament can be just as powerful in what is not mentioned as it is in what is mentioned. Do you know what is missing from the passage? The disciples. They are completely absent from this story about going to Pontius Pilate to receive the body of the Lord. They were not there at all! This should strike us as strange because they had given up everything and followed Him as their master for the last three years! Where were the disciples? Why didn’t they come to show their love of the Lord? Why didn’t they come to pay their respects and to honor the body of the Lord with dignity and a proper burial? They certainly knew what would happen to a body that was unclaimed; that it would be thrown into a common pit with the other criminals who had been executed. So where were the disciples?!

They were absent on purpose because they were terrified and hid for their lives. Their absence demonstrates so much about the courage of Joseph of Arimathea, it would’ve humbled them greatly. But more than this, their absence overwhelmingly and powerfully witnesses to the truth of the resurrection of the Son of God. Within a matter of three days the cowardly and timid disciples will grow bold and before long they will be like lions as they boldly preach and proclaim the risen Lord. Their activity is the most important movement in the history of the world, a movement that we are continuing here and now because we also believe in the risen Lord. But do we believe enough to proclaim this to the outside world? Are we pious, reverent, and respectful towards Christ even when doing so is unpopular and dangerous? Are we hidden and terrified as the disciples were? Are we terrified of what co-workers and classmates might say? Are we terrified of being labeled by friends or neighbors?

The disciples were terrified for their very lives. They believed when they saw Christ physically resurrected but Our Lord blessed those who would believe without seeing. Perhaps you’ve never given much thought to Joseph of Arimathea. Perhaps you quickly glossed over that part of the passion narrative. It shows us that every detail is important. Both what is mentioned and what is not mentioned. It shows us that the resurrection powerfully transformed the disciples who scattered as soon as the Shepherd was struck.

Finally, it also teaches us that Joseph showed mercy and compassion when it was not convenient to do so. He showed mercy to what he thought was a lifeless corpse, who could offer nothing in return. How much more should we show mercy and compassion to those around us, even when it is inconvenient to do so? May the example of Pious Joseph, his mercy, his piety and his courage, be an encouragement to each of us as we seek to be disciples of the risen Lord Jesus!

Christ is risen!

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