“Make it as secure as you can.” I often spend time during the latter part of Lent reading and comparing the accounts of Holy Week in all four gospels. Every time I discover something new. This year I am focusing on Holy Saturday. It’s such a strange day, an in-between day when nothing much seems to be happening. It’s a time of silence — except in the gospel of Matthew.
Matthew tells us that when Jesus died, Roman guards and a centurion kept watch at the cross to confirm his death. On Friday evening of this Day of Preparation for the Sabbath, a wealthy man from Arimathea named Joseph went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Matthew calls Joseph a “disciple,” who, other than the twelve, is the only person in the New Testament named as a “disciple.” This is significant because tradition identified Joseph as a member of the Sanhedrin, which was responsible for condemning Jesus to death. Joseph of Arimathea was an outlier and evidently a recent convert.
Pilate ordered that Jesus’ body be given to Joseph, who wrapped the body in a cloth and laid it in his own tomb. He rolled a stone in front of the entrance and then went away. All the while, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting opposite the tomb watching.
The next day, Saturday, the chief priests and Pharisees came to Pilate and said, “We remember when that imposter said while he was alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.”
“Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.’ So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.”
Matthew has a unique source for what happened on Holy Saturday. The Greek word “make secure” (asphalizo) is found three times in Matthew 27 and only one other time in the New Testament. In Acts16:24, the jailer “fastened” Paul and Silas’ feet in the stocks when they were in prison.
At the time Matthew was written, some opponents of the Jesus movement claimed that Jesus did not die, the women went go the wrong tomb, or disciples stole his body. Thus, the presence of guards, who do not appear in the other gospels. Furthermore, these guards are later bribed by the chief priests and elders to lie and say that disciples came and stole Jesus’ body.
Make the tomb as secure as you can. Even the tomb couldn’t hold Jesus back! Which only goes to show that nothing is secure. As humans, it is only natural that we want to be as secure as possible. That’s why we build bigger barns, save more for retirement, create “stronger” passwords, or install alarm systems in our homes. We want to have enough in case there are major medical expenses, or so we can leave something for our grandchildren. We’re only being responsible, right?
But our human reality is that nothing is guaranteed in this life. Home, health, happiness? Nothing. Nothing is secure. Living in a rural state where farming is a huge part of Iowa’s economy, I am very aware of the economic uncertainty that many farm families can experience because of circumstances out of their control.
Make it as secure as you can. Last Thursday, the daughter of my husband Gary’s cousin died tragically of cancer. She was only in her forties. We got to know her as a little girl when we were in graduate school in Connecticut, where her family lived. She had two beautiful children, a successful career, great friends, and a wonderful church home.
I think of Kevin and Amy Sharp and their two children from Creston, Iowa, who were vacationing over spring break in Mexico and were reported missing last week after never returning home. Last Friday, all four members of the family were found dead in their resort condo in Akumal of gas asphyxiation. The Sharp family’s relatives and friends and the community are devastated.
And I think of the March for Our Lives that took place last Saturday by millions of people around the world. This nationwide protest against gun violence was organized by students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida after a gunman killed seventeen students and staff. In an effort to make schools more secure, students launched the #NeverAgain movement. Among the many young people who have claimed their voices, one teen said, “We are not here for bread crumbs. We are here for real change.”
Make it as secure as you can. These tragedies are unthinkable. It’s not fair, we shake our fist at God, and we do as much as we can to create security for all people. At the same time, we know that human life is always finite. As the psalmist writes, “We live at best to be seventy years old, maybe eighty, if we’re strong. But their duration brings hard work and trouble because they go by so quickly. And then we fly off.” (Psalm 90:10) As we enter into the events of this Holy Week, we are reminded that Jesus was at the prime of his life when he was crucified on a cross, likely in his early 30’s.
As a bishop leading through uncertain times, I place my trust in a God who goes before me into a future of hope. I often find myself singing a stanza of Amazing Grace, with a few words changed, “The Lord has promised good to us. His Word our hope secures; He will our shield and portion be; As long as life endures.”
Make it as secure as you can. The guards made the tomb as secure as they could. Yet on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead and lives forever. Really, how could the guards secure the world against a miracle? In the midst of a world that often seems to offer scant security, you and I have the opportunity to place ourselves in God’s hands every day, trusting that we will always live secure in our faith and the hope that is in us.
May we be wise in using the gifts God has given us, love recklessly, forgive extravagantly, and serve with abandon. Most of all, may we share the faith that is in us, so that, one day, everyone will know that no matter who they are or where they come from or what their history is, they are loved. Then, they, too, can rest securely in God’s grace and offer that grace to others.
Vainly they watch His bed, Jesus, my Savior;
Vainly they seal the dead, Jesus, my Lord!
Up from the grave He arose, With a mighty triumph o’er His foes,
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!