I have spent the day looking at incredible art. While in Florence, we have visited the Uffizi Gallery and the Academia. I have marveled at David. I have seen so many pictures and statues. But, I have been amazed even more at the theology behind some of the works of lesser known artists.
Luke 23:50-53 reads, "Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectandly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid."
I have never before thought about who took the body of Jesus down from the cross or how these people got the body down. I have never thought about it until I saw so many pictures with ladders. So many of the Italian artists have created the crucifixion with ladders - with ladders that extend to the top of the cross - ladders that people can climb in order to get the body of Jesus and the other two people down from the crosses.
Ladders. I have never thought about people actually climbing to the top of the cross in order to remove the body of Jesus - to carefully untack the hands and the feet of Jesus. But, I saw the ladders today as portrayed by Italian Rennassiance artists. I cannot stop thinking about these ladders. And, I cannot stop thinking about Joseph of Arimathea.
We are told that Joseph, though a member of the council, did not agree with the plan and action of the council. Joseph, an insider, chose to be an outsider. Joseph chose to stay close to the cross. He chose to put a ladder against the cross - a ladder that would extend to the top of the cross.
I can imagine the pain and ridicule that came Joseph's way. I can imagine that his colleagues questioned why on earth he would be carrying a ladder to Golgatha - why on earth he would be placing that ladder up against a cross - why on earth he would be removing the body of one who was crucified. Still, Joseph went. He went, he carried a ladder, he climbed the cross, and he removed the body.
When I am rediculed, questioned, or criticised, it is so much easy for me to back down the ladder than it is to climb the ladder. When people question what I do in the name of my faith or my prodding of the Holy Spirit, it is so much easier to give into their criticism, and to stop what I am doing, than it is to continue on my way.
Joseph, however, did not stop. Instead, he carried a ladder to Golgatha. He placed the ladder up against the cross. He removed the nails in Jesus' hands and feet. He brought the body down and laid it in a tomb. He brought the body down that would rise again in three days.
I wonder even more now that I have seen these ladders in so many paintings today, what might happen if we did not back down in the face of criticism. What might happen if we continued to climb the ladder. What might happen if we continued to climb the ladder and talk with those with whom we disagree? What might happen if we tried to always stand for Christ - for Christ's ways, Christ's love, Christ's grace - even if we are going against what others are telling us we should do or think or say or feel.
Joseph climbed the ladder. I saw him climb it in so many paintings today. He climbed the ladder - even though he was a member of the council who fought for the cross - he climbed a ladder when the council's actions were over. And, in the paintings, he is not the only one who climbed the ladder.
Many others were there with him.
God, help me to climb the ladders you have placed in front of me. Amen.