The hillside loomed desolate, save for a few soldiers watching over the bodies. The riotous crowds had dispersed when the violent earthquake hit. Nicodemus and Joseph worked together, their raspy breaths disrupting the eerie silence. Nicodemus wrestled with the nails that fastened the hands and feet to the cross, while Joseph held the body to keep it from falling. His stomach lurched as the last pulled free, exposing tendons and bone. The lifeless arm flopped down.
Together, they eased the body onto the ground. Nicodemus shivered eying the distorted mound of flesh at his feet. Jesus’ features were indistinguishable.
Could this be the man who spoke with such authority?
He stole a look at Joseph, a fellow member of the Sanhedrin, who stood, eyes closed, his thoughts a mystery. Nicodemus rested, heart pounding, reluctant to proceed.
He looked west. The sun was fast-approaching the end of its course.
“We must hurry,” he said.
Joseph opened his eyes and nodded. “The tomb is not far. We’ll carry him there and begin preparation.”
Nicodemus removed his cloak and wrapped it, as best he could, about Jesus’ body. They picked up the corpse and began their awkward descent, stumbling often on the rocky terrain. Nicodemus felt the stickiness of blood seeping though the material. Two of Joseph’s servants followed, carrying the linen and spice. Behind them, several women trudged weeping.
They snaked though garden paths to the place where the tomb was hewn out of a rock. Lengthening tree shadows pointed the way. The heavy perfume of lilies flooded the air.
They eased sideways through the opening, staggering beneath the weight, then laid the body on a stone slab. One servant ran to the well for water. When he returned, they washed the dried blood away. Ribbons of skin hung from Jesus’ back. Where the skin hadn’t been torn off, it was blackened from beatings. The brown-stained water spilled over the edge of the slab and dripped onto the floor. Jesus’ words echoed in Nicodemus’ mind.
Unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Joseph unfolded the fine, white cloth he had purchased. Nicodemus reached for the spices he’d bought in the marketplace—one hundred pounds of myrrh mixed with aloes. He’d heard rumors there from the merchants—the curtain in the temple torn, the dead appearing, resurrected.
Oh Jesus, why did I not follow you publicly? I knew You were a man of God.
Nicodemus pried off the vessel’s top. Its musky fragrance permeated the small room until it was suffocating.
His faith had been like the myrrh- locked safely inside him, where no one would catch its scent. He had gone to Jesus once, his soul aching for something more than the letter of the law, but under cover of darkness so as not to be seen. Only once had he spoken on Jesus’ behalf.
The Sanhedrin had debated Jesus’ guilt. Without forethought, Nicodemus had shouted, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” His eyes had locked with Joseph’s then. He thought he saw approval in them and wondered if he, too, believed. Tonight, Joseph’s actions—his bold request for Jesus’ body, the generous gift of the tomb—testified to his faith.
Joseph’s voice startled him. “We will wrap him quickly; Sabbath is near. The women will return after to finish.”
Nicodemus glanced outside. The sun plummeted now. The women huddled in shadows.
He spread the spices onto a section of linen and wound the material around Jesus’ legs to stifle, temporarily, the stench of decay. Images of the crucifixion flashed before him— the tortured prophet, hate-filled multitudes, and cruel soldiers. And so much blood. More of Jesus’ words filled his head.
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.
Had He known?
Joseph worked beside him now, helping turn the body to get the linen beneath.
“Joseph… He was the Son of God.”
“We may lose our positions… perhaps our lives.”
“But we are no longer hiding.”
Soon they finished and exited. The spicy aroma wafted out into the evening air, mingling with the scent of flowers and drifting upward, as the sun disappeared.
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