Presented at a joint Ecumenical Service at Christ Lutheran Church, West Boylston, MA; April 6, 2012 (Good Friday).
Gospel Reading: John 19:31-42.
Seeing this beautiful Cross laid out here before us this evening, I am reminded of my recent visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the focal point of the events that take place in this evening’s reading from the Gospel of John, the central narrative of our faith, which we remember in this Good Friday service, as well as on Easter, the story of Christ’s death and resurrection.
What made the biggest impression on me in that place was not the elaborate shrines of Calvary and the Tomb. It was a humbler shrine near the main entrance to the Church, “The Stone of Unction.”
This stone marks where Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the High Council in Jerusalem, and the Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews; laid Jesus’ body after taking it down from the Cross. It was there that they washed Jesus’ body, anointed it with oil, and prepared it for burial.
Why is the Stone of Unction important? Why did the builders of that Church orient the building such that this spot is so close to the main entrance? Why is the building laid out such that you must pass by the Stone of Unction as you go from the Cross to the Tomb? In other words, why does it matter?
Let’s start by thinking about what would have happened if Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had not taken the body of Jesus down from the Cross.