The Church Lady at the Tomb

Good Friday Reflection based on Luke 23:50-53

I think I only ever saw her smile once. Otherwise Elizabeth Peters’ lips were permanently pursed. She was the kind of woman who wore ankle-length pleated skirts to church and judged anyone else who didn’t. She would show up for church every Sunday, early, and sit in her pew. 

As her husband snored through the sermon she would pull out her red pen and kindly correct the grammar of this week’s bulletin. That is, until it was time for a hymn. Then Elizabeth’s pursed lips would part and she would burst into song. With eyes closed and heart open, she would sing of the Lord, her life and her salvation.

Joseph of Arimathea was an Elizabeth Peters, a Sadducee. He kept the law to a T and could easily judge anyone else who didn’t. That’s why it was a surprise when he stepped forward and asked Pilate for the dead body of Jesus of Nazareth.

One year I was put in charge of the Holy Week stripping of the altar and I was told not to call Elizabeth Peters. It would only insult her. “She’ll be here. She’s here every year.” 

When the time came I was not at all in the moment. I was stressfully handing off communion cups and candlesticks indiscriminately, hoping we’d finish our part before the organist finished playing The Old Rugged Cross. We didn’t. There was one more piece to go, and the sanctuary was silent.  

That’s when Elizabeth Peters walked up and gently put her hand on my shoulder. She moved me aside and made her way behind the altar table. There, with the precision of the Arlington honor guard, she systematically folded up the purple altar cloth, over and back, over and back. The last fold left the letters I H S visible to the congregation: Iesus hominum salvator, Jesus Savior of the world. 

And then this de facto sergeant at arms carried this folded linen cloth down the center aisle, bearing this fabric that bore the name of her Lord with the care of a nursing mother, she carried him away, and we were all left in silence.

Pilate agreed to Joseph’s request to receive the body before the Sabbath began, so they lowered Jesus’ body from the cross and placed in Joseph’s arms. He held him there, Mary’s boy, who she once wrapped in bands cloth and laid in a manger. Joseph held him now. He washed him, and wrapped him in bands of linen, and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb.

seven sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Signed Maÿer & Co. Munich London

The first Sadducee who held Mary’s boy back in Luke 3 broke out in song when he held the Christ child in his arms. With eyes closed and heart open he sang “Now I can rest in peace for my eyes have seen my salvation.” Joseph, the last Sadducee to hold him, now seals his tomb in silence.

Some women had come with him, three we think, like Magi in ankle-length skirts. They were ready with their spices, but the Sabbath had begun. They would have to wait and return to see him, he who was supposed to have been their salvation. So they make a plan to meet up Sunday morning, early, on the first day of the week. For now, they take their Sabbath rest, and they pray.

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