There are a number of minor characters who appear in the Passion narratives in all four gospels. They seldom get much attention. So this Lent I want to try to see these invisible people of the Passion and imagine events through their eyes.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” Therefore command that the tomb 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 27:62-66)

We Pharisees have a bad reputation. People say we are legalists who know nothing about love. They criticize us for adhering to the laws and traditions of our people.

One of our harshest critics was a wild preacher named Jesus. He attacked us right to our faces saying,

woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. (Matthew 23:13)

If that’s not bad enough he went on to say,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practised without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!(Matthew 23:23,24)

Is it any wonder we wanted to get rid of him. He called us hypocrites and blind guides. He accused us of getting in the way of people finding God. He said we were fussy about tiny little laws while ignoring the big issues. Can you imagine such insolence?

So we went to the Romans and we talked them into getting rid of him. It really was in everyone’s best interests. That kind of talk causes ripples that go out in all kinds of directions and you never know where they will end.

After he was dead, we were pretty sure that would be the end of the whole sorry mess.

The day he died scared us a little bit. It seemed the whole day was dark and the earth shook. And there was that thing with the curtain in the temple being torn in two from top to bottom. We tried to keep that story quiet but somehow it started to get around.

We did not know permission had been given to take his body down from the cross after he died. We would certainly have opposed the idea if we had known. It was Joseph of Arimathea who did it. He went to the Romans all on his own and convinced them to surrender the body. It should have stayed there to rot on the cross. Crucifixion is much more effective the longer people get to look at the body decaying in the sun.

We needed that body hanging there to remind people that it is not good to go up against the rulers of the temple in Jerusalem. But Joseph went behind our backs, or maybe it was over our heads, and he spirited the body away and laid it in his own tomb.

So, we went to the Romans to ask one more favour. We wanted permission to make absolutely sure the tomb was secure. The last thing we needed was someone coming along, stealing the body, and claiming that some kind of crazy miracle had happened.

Pilate had lost interest in the whole affair. He did not care about our problems. He brushed us aside with a sweep of his hand. “Go and do what you must do,” he said. Romans do not take much interest in the dead bodies of radical Jewish preachers.

So we sealed the tomb; we posted a guard and we made sure no one could change the reality of what we knew had happened.

After that everything was quiet. Bodies don’t speak from the dead. We had done our job well; we all went home to rest.

I have to admit, it was an uneasy rest. Something seemed to be stirring in the air. It felt like one of those gentle evenings in spring when a warm breeze blows in from the sea and there is a quietness that feels almost holy.

Then we began to hear the rumours. His friends were claiming they had seen him again. They were circulating stories that he had been raised from the dead. They said they had eaten with him and had heard his teaching again.

No sensible person would place any validity in such stories. And I would never have trusted the reports, until I ran into Joseph of Arimathea.

I had gone to the tomb. I was sure if I could see it myself, I would understand what had taken place, how they had fooled our guards and damaged the seal on the stone.

Being there only made my confusion deeper. The body was gone; there was no doubt about that. But I could not figure out how they had done it. The stone was huge. It had been rolled into a groove carved in the rock at the entrance to the tomb. It would have been secure. And, although they were gone now, we know that our guards were in place when it happened. I stood there by that empty tomb feeling completely bewildered.

Then Joseph arrived. I should not have been surprised. It was his tomb after all. He was just coming to examine his property. Joseph of Arimathea was a prudent man. I knew him to be sensible and honourable. He respected our traditions and was trusted by most Jews, until he got himself tangled up in this mess with Jesus.

I had bent over and gone into the tomb, half expecting I would find the body lying there. But there was no body, only empty grave clothes collapsed in place as if the body had evaporated. No one could have unwrapped a dead body and left the wrappings like this.

When I came out of the tomb, there was Joseph standing in the garden. He looked at me.

It seemed to me that his face glowed. He said quietly, “I have seen him.” He said nothing more. He did not seem embarrassed by the outrageous claim. He did not try to convince me or persuade me his words were true.

Those four words just hung in the air between us. I felt a chill down my back. It was then that Joseph uttered the words that really unsettled me. He said, “God is love and that love has been reborn in Jesus.” Then he took my shoulders and held me in his big embrace. Time stood still. Nothing moved.

I felt like my heart was stopping. I needed to get away from this place and this man. There was such a sense of mystery and strangeness in the air.

Finally, Joseph let me go. I mumbled something and fled. I ran from that garden. I have been running ever since. I have tried to get away from that sense of mystery that embraced me that day. I have fled from the sound of Joseph’s voice and the words he spoke. But, I have never been able to get away.

That strange day lurks always in the background of my life. I fear one day, I am going to have to explore what it means. But I worry that it will bring terrible turmoil into my life. And somehow I just cannot make myself ready for that journey.