August 1: Joseph of Arimathaea

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

About this commemoration

Joseph of Arimathaea

Joseph of Arimathaea, by Pietro Perugino

All that is certainly known of Joseph of Arimathaea comes from the narratives of the burial of Jesus in the Gospels. Though John speaks of Joseph as a secret disciple of our Lord, and associates him with Nicodemus, another member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who was drawn to Jesus, we know nothing of any further activity of these men in

the early Christian community. Later, however, legends developed about their leadership in the Church. One of the more attractive is the story of Joseph’s coming to the ancient Church of Glastonbury in Britain and bringing with him the Holy Grail (the cup used at the Last Supper). This tradition cannot be dated earlier than the thirteenth century. Although this and other stories obtained wide credence, they are not based on historical facts.

Joseph’s claim for remembrance does not depend upon such legends, however beautiful and romantic. When our Lord’s intimate disciples were hiding for fear of the authorities, Joseph came forward boldly and courageously to do, not only what was demanded by Jewish piety, but to act generously and humanely by providing his own tomb for the decent and proper burial of our Lord’s body, thus saving it from further desecration.

Collect of the Day

Merciful God, whose servant Joseph of Arimathaea with reverence and godly fear prepared the body of our Lord and Savior for burial, and laid it in his own tomb: Grant to us, your faithful people, grace and courage to love and serve Jesus with sincere devotion all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lessons

Genesis 23:3–9,17–19

James 1:17–18

Luke 23:50–56

Psalm 16:5–11

Preface of the Commemoration of the Dead

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

7 Responses to August 1: Joseph of Arimathaea

  1. Hebrew Reading: The switch from Proverbs to Genesis seem to be a good choice.

    NT Reading: Again … just two verses? Poor Joseph, just two verses of scripture.

  2. John LaVoe says:

    August 1: Joseph of Arimathaea

    Why the epistle? If it’s trying to say the gift of the tomb is one of those “from above,” that wrenches the verse 180 degrees from its meaning. Its shortness softens its sense of not fitting the commemoration and hides how radically context-less it really is. A possible alternative …
    Romans 6:3-5?
    3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
    4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
    5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
    .
    The remaining readings are all good to excellent.
    .
    The bio, like many of those based on scripture, is strangely circuitous. It begins with reference to “certain knowledge,” then avoids saying what that is. Instead, it jumps to the lack of “further” knowledge, followed by an account of a legend discredited as incredible and unhistorical. Finally, it tells of Joseph’s advocacy for, and generosity towards, Jesus’ crucified body. A possible rearrangement follows:
    .
    CHANGED VERSION:
    Joseph of Arimathaea was the secret disciple of our Lord whose intervention with Pilate insured a burial for his crucified body. Because of his crucifixion, our Lord’s most intimate disciples went into hiding for fear of the authorities. Joseph courageously came forward to ask Pilate’s permission to remove Jesus’ body from the cross and to do what was demanded by Jewish piety, namely, provide him with a timely and proper burial. Beyond that, Joseph freely offered his own newly dug tomb for Jesus, preventing further desecration by humans or animals.
    .
    Though we know nothing of his further role in the early Christian movement, legends developed in later centuries about Joseph’s possible subsequent leadership. Such stories obtained wide popularity, but were not based on historical facts. One of the more attractive was the story of Joseph’s coming to the ancient Church of Glastonbury in Britain, bringing with him the Holy Grail, the cup used at the Last Supper. This tradition cannot be dated earlier than the thirteenth century. However, Joseph’s remembrance does not depend upon such legends, beautiful and romantic though they may be. What is known of Joseph with certainty comes from the Gospel narratives of his burial. Joseph stands out among Christians for his devotion to the Lord, his generous compassion, and his brave willingness to take action on behalf of another when such action mattered.

  3. John LaVoe says:

    OOPS #1:

    I just saw it — “What is known of Joseph with certainty comes from the Gospel narratives of his burial.”
    That should have been, “…narratives of Jesus’ burial” or “…narratives of our Lord’s burial.”

  4. Suzanne Sauter says:

    Again, I want to express my concern about including legends which has no scriptural or even historical basis as part of the biographies which are included in Holy Men, Holy Women. I realized that one might argue that the Episcopal Church is not a “sola scriptura” denomination. To use Richard Hooker’s words —“What Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto is whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason; after these the voice of the Church succeedeth. That which the Church by her ecclesiastical authority shall probably think and define to be true or good, must in congruity of reason over-rule all other inferior judgments whatsoever” Legends just do not belong in the commemorations. It is enough that Joseph of Arimethaea “came forward boldly and courageously to do, not only what was demanded by Jewish piety, but to act generously and humanely by providing his own tomb for the decent and proper burial of our Lord’s body, thus saving it from further desecration.” Please, leave out the legends and emphasis that importance of what we are told the Joseph of Arimethaea did do.

  5. Nigel Renton says:

    Wouldn’t the word order in the second line be improved by writing:

    “…narratives in the Gospels of the burials of Jesus.” ?

    (He wasn’t actually buried in the Gospels!)

  6. Jason VanBorssum says:

    Joseph (Yosef ha-Ramathaim) is described as a “rich man” who went to Pilate to beg for the body of Jesus. I have often reflected on the significance of this: the fact that Joseph was wealthy and a man of status and means explains how and why he was allowed access to the Roman prefect…an imperial procurator would certainly not give an audience to just any Jewish subject who came knocking on the door of the Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem. It is a certainty that Pilate did not release the body of Jesus as an act of kindness or courtesy or even out of deference to Jewish burial law and custom (which some who view Pilate as a “nice guy” deep down or conflicted in some way need to recognize). Money changed hands, you can be sure. Graft was standard operating procedure and money bought access and favors from political figures in ancient times (and just as in our day…that has never changed!). Why else would Joseph’s wealth be specifically referenced?

    What is the deeper significance and meaning of this transaction as the bookend to the Passion narrative? Judas was paid by religious authorities (the High Priest was an agent of Rome and was effectively a toady of secular imperial power) to betray Jesus and hand him over to empire; Joseph pays political authority to “buy back” the body of Jesus from empire…

    Perhaps, in a sense, one can see how Jesus needs to be “bought back” from political movements and institutions of power and empire, even today.

  7. Pingback: August 1 – St. Joseph of Arimathaea : St. Paul's Episcopal Church

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