Preface of the Commemoration of the
[Common of a Saint]
[For All Baptized Christians]
PRAYER (traditional language)
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 thy faithful people grace and courage to love and
serve Jesus with sincere devotion all the days of our life; through the
same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the
Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
PRAYER (contemporary language)
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.
This commemoration appears in Lesser Feast & Fasts 2018 with revised collects and readings.
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Last updated: 31 May 2020
JOSEPH OF ARIMATHAEA
(1 AUGUST NT)
[Note: the feast day for Joseph of Arimathaea
traditionally falls on 31 July, but has been transferred to 1 August to
make room for Ignatius of Loyola]
Gospels tell us (M 27:57-61; P 15:42-47; L 23:50-56; J 19:38-42) that
after the death of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathaea, wealthy, a member of the
Council, asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, and buried it with honor
in the tomb he had intended for himself. This is our only information
about him from writers of his own century.
Later tradition has embellished this account. (If not interested in
folklore, skip to the closing prayer.) It is said that Joseph was a distant
relative of the family of Jesus; that he derived his wealth from tin mines
in Cornwall, which he visited from time to time; and that Jesus as a teen-ager
accompanied Joseph on one such visit. This is the background of the poem
"Jerusalem," by William Blake, which begins:
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark satanic mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.
-- William Blake (1757-1827)
[Click here for the music.]
After the Crucifixion, we are told, Joseph returned to Cornwall, bringing
the chalice of the Last Supper, known as the Holy Grail. Reaching Glastonbury,
he planted his staff, which took root and blossomed into a thorn tree.
The Grail was hidden, and part of the great national epic ("the matter
of Britain") deals with the unsuccessful quest of the knights of King
Arthur to find the Grail. The Thorn Tree remained at Glastonbury, flowering
every year on Christmas day, and King Charles I baited the Roman Catholic
chaplain of his queen by pointing out that, although Pope Gregory had
proclaimed a reform of the calendar, the Glastonbury Thorn ignored the
Pope's decree and continued to blossom on Christmas Day according to the
Old Calendar. The Thorn was cut down by one of Cromwell's soldiers on
the grounds that it was a relic of superstition, and it is said that as
it fell, its thorns blinded the axeman in one eye. A tree allegedly grown
from a cutting from the original Thorn survives today in Glastonbury (and
trees propagated from it stand on the grounds of the Cathedral in Washington,
DC, and presumably elsewhere) and leaves from it are sold in all the tourist
shops in Glastonbury.
|Joseph of Arimathaea
with the body of Christ. From an old (1811) Book of Common Prayer.
Has the Glastonbury legend any basis at all in history? Two facts and
some speculations follow:
Tin, an essential ingrediant of bronze, was
highly valued in ancient times, and Phoenician ships imported tin from
Cornwall. It is a pretty safe guess that in the first century the investors
who owned shares in the Cornwall tin trade included at least a few Jewish
Christianity gained a foothold in Britain
very early, probably earlier than in Gaul. It may have been brought there
by the traffic of the Cornwall tin trade. If so, then the early British
Christians would have a tradition that they had been evangelised by a wealthy
Jewish Christian. If they had forgotten his name, it would be natural to
consult the Scriptures to see what mention was made of early wealthy Jewish
converts. Joseph and Barnabas are almost the only ones named, and much
of the life of Barnabas is already accounted for by the book of Acts, which
makes him an unsatisfactory candidate. Hence, those who do not like to
be vague would say, not, "We were evangelised by some wealthy Jewish Christian
whose name we have forgotten," but, "We were evangelised by Joseph of Arimathaea."
Why spend time on any of the above? Because the folk-tales of a community
are part of the heritage of a community. Someone wishing to understand
the United States will be well advised to familiarize himself with the
stories of George Washington's cherry tree and Paul Revere's ride, although
he ought not to confuse them with history.