Daily Office Readings for Good Friday, April 10, 2020:
In our evening Gospel reading from John, we learn that Nicodemus brought a hundred pounds of spices to prepare Jesus’ body for the tomb. That’s a rather staggering amount of aloe and myrrh, when you consider the average Jewish burial in that time used between one and five pounds of spices.
Probably most of the time we gloss over that odd detail, and if we do notice it, we might ask ourselves, “Seriously, Nick–a hundred pounds? What’s up with that?” A hundred pounds of myrrh and aloe would have created this large mound, with Jesus’ body encased inside, like a cocoon.
Some who have written commentaries on this little tidbit say that it was indicative of a royal burial, because Josephus recorded that 40 pounds of spices were used for Rabbi Gamaliel’s burial.
Some have claimed it was a Johnine reference to the abundance of God, in the same way Mary of Bethany put all that expensive nard on Jesus’ feet.
Some have postulated we don’t understand the units, but a Roman pound was just a shade less than our present-day pound, so I don’t buy that one at all.
Some have simply wondered it was a typo.
I have another possibility in mind, one that was forged many years ago when I was a third year medical student, and often got the task of telling families that their loved one was dead, simply because I was the lowest one on the teaching hospital food chain. More than once I would go out to a family where the recently deceased died suddenly of a massive heart attack, and the spouse would be clutching a bottle of pills in his or her hand.
“But she/he can’t be dead! I have all these pills left.” The surviving spouse would be insistent that their loved one couldn’t be dead. There was always that bottle (usually nitroglycerin tablets) that always brought them back from a “bad spell” and the notion became that somehow, as long as there were pills, their loved one wouldn’t die. That heart-wrenching example of misplaced grief, morphed into disbelief, became burned into my brain…and given the fact that myrrh and aloe were also used as medicine, not only in embalming, I can’t help but wonder if in Nicodemus’ shock and grief, he went out and bought a crazy amount of myrrh and aloe thinking if there were simply enough of it available, Jesus wouldn’t be dead.
We’ve seen that sideways dynamic played out in other ways this week. “If I only have enough toilet paper/hand sanitizer/paper towels/dog food/meat/sugar/mashed potatoes, I won’t be miserable. I won’t have to do without. I won’t get the virus. I won’t get sick. I won’t die.” Yet for many of us, someone we knew still got sick, perhaps even that someone was us. Someone we knew or were close to, or a celebrity we liked, still died. We’re still ensconced in our own homes, or we’re still an essential worker going out into what feels like the valley of death…and the toilet paper or the hand sanitizer, or the paper towels or the dog food, meat, sugar, or mashed potatoes didn’t change that.
It’s okay to grieve. It really is. Sometimes unembellished grief is not only enough, it is the abscess under our skin that has to be lanced so the healing will take place. Holding it in, or hiding it behind a case of toilet paper or a big sack of dog food only rots us from the inside, or causes our wound to jaggedly burst open and spew pus onto ourselves and possibly others.
I always wonder what Nicodemus ended up doing with all those spices that had to be left over, when the women preparing Jesus’ body probably looked at him like he’d lost his mind. My hope, of course, is that he gave the excess away, but we’ll never know the answer to that one.
We’ll never know the answer to a lot of things we might ponder in the days ahead, but we know one thing. There is always resurrection at the end of the tunnel, resurrection big enough to hold our grief and return love back to us instead. And at the same time, there is always grief before we get there.
May each of us, on this Good Friday of the “Lentiest Lent ever”, find God’s peace in the center of whatever grief we might be feeling today.
From Theophile Lybaert’s Stations of the Cross (Station 14), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri , as the Interim Pastor at Christ Episcopal Church, Rolla, MO.