Joseph of Arimathea vs. Anna Cooper

Today's match-up is why Lent Madness can sometimes resemble the theater of the absurd. The Scriptural figure Joseph of Armimathea, who asked Pilate for Jesus' body in order to give him a proper burial, takes on Anna Cooper, African-American feminist, writer, and academic. The good news? Lent Madness returns after taking a sabbath on the First Sunday in Lent.

Over the weekend, as Tim was singing The Great Litany in procession, Scott shared some additional Lenten devotional resources offered by Forward Movement (shockingly, Lent Madness isn't everyone's sole Lenten discipline). The mysterious Maple Anglican also released his Week One Update video which recapped the first three match-ups and previewed this week's battles.

And now? More Madness!

Joseph-of-Arimathe_1599392aJoseph of Arimathea

The patron saint of funeral directors, morticians, and undertakers, Joseph of Arimathea has a curious reputation. He appears in all four gospels, doing essentially the same thing: going to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body in order to provide for his burial. Presented as a person of high status by each evangelist, his portrait shifts slightly in each version. He’s a kind of Rorschach test for a character we tend to think of as “not Jesus’ type:” a wealthy, well-connected religious leader.

In Matthew, he’s noted as a rich man and a disciple of Jesus. In Mark, he’s “a respected member of the council” who “went boldly to Pilate.” In Luke, he is “a good and righteous man,” a member of the council who had not agreed with the plan to kill Jesus. And in John, he’s a secret disciple for “fear of the Jews.” It’s like the synoptic gospels are saying, “Yeah, he’s on the council that killed Jesus, but he’s really a good guy, you know?” John can’t seem to get over his distaste.

John cannot deny, however, that after Jesus was abandoned at his crucifixion, Joseph showed up and went in person to the very man who executed Jesus and asked for the body. Handling the corpse would render Joseph ritually unclean for the Passover (Numbers 19:11-13).

Instead, Joseph fulfilled another law. Deuteronomy 21:22-24 says, “When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.”

Joseph is an interesting (and typically Jesus-like) case study about keeping the Law: is it more important to be clean and to take part in religious rituals or to show love and compassion to the least among us? Joseph’s choice shows he understood the essential truth of Jesus’ teaching.

After the burial, Joseph disappears from scripture. According to one legend, he brought the Holy Grail to England. In fact, Elizabeth I made use of Joseph’s supposed trip to support Anglicanism. After all, the Roman bishops “testifieth Joseph of Arimathea to be the first preacher of the word of God within our realms.” Therefore, the Roman Church couldn’t have been the first and only established church in England, could it?

Collect for Joseph of Arimathea
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.

 -- Laura Darling

cooper_annaAnna Julia Haywood Cooper 

Anna Julia Haywood Cooper was one of the first feminists of the twentieth century and a tireless advocate for “neglected people,” in particular, African American women. Born in 1858 as the daughter of an enslaved African woman and a white man, likely her master, Anna transcended the limitations of slavery and the post-Civil War’s Reconstruction. She attended St. Augustine’s Normal & Technical Institute—now St. Augustine’s College—in Raleigh, North Carolina. She later studied at Oberlin College and graduated in 1884 with a bachelor’s degree and in 1887 with a master’s in mathematics. While at St. Augustine’s, Anna met and married her husband George Cooper, who was preparing for the priesthood. Although he died two years after they married, Cooper pressed forward with her education and career because of her desire to foster the full inclusion of black women in civic life.

Anna’s passionate belief in the power of education to transform lives led her to serve as a teacher and principal at M Street High School, the only all-black school in Washington, D.C. When her superintendent told Cooper that she should focus on teaching trades to her students instead of science, math, and literature, Cooper unabashedly defied his orders and continued with her original plans. As a result of her firm resolve, M Street’s graduates attended some of the nation’s most prestigious colleges and universities during a time when such opportunities were limited for women and people of color.

Cooper wrote A Voice from the South, in which she argued that black women had a unique voice about the experience of oppression and criticized educational, social, and civic advancements that only favored black men. At the heart of Cooper’s work was a firm belief in the potential of every human being. Never one to slow down, in 1915, Cooper adopted five children left orphaned, and in 1925, at the age of sixty-five she earned her doctorate in history from the University of Paris. Cooper died in 1964; she was 105 years old.

In 2009, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp in her honor. Pages 26-27 of all United States passports quote Anna Julia Haywood Cooper’s passionate beliefs about equality and freedom for all: “The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party, or a class—it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.” Thus it is possible to meditate on Lent Madness while waiting in slow-moving immigration lines when you return to the United States from vacationing elsewhere.

Collect for Anna Julia Haywood Cooper
Almighty God, you inspired your servant Anna Julia Haywood Cooper with the love of learning and the skill of teaching: Enlighten us more and more through the discipline of learning, and deepen our commitment to the education of all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

-- Maria Kane


Joseph of Arimathea vs. Anna Cooper

  • Anna Cooper (60%, 3,983 Votes)
  • Joseph of Arimathea (40%, 2,702 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,685

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206 comments on “Joseph of Arimathea vs. Anna Cooper”

  1. Why do you make this so hard? Two wonderful choices. But for me it came down to doing the last loving gesture for another human that is done by those who bury the dead. The hardest job in the military is Graves Registrar. My respect for the men and women who prepare the remains and belongings of those who have died is enormous. And of course, I cannot forget the gift of Joseph of Arimathea to Jesus's family and friends. So, yeah, even though I love Anna Julia Haywood Cooper's story, I have to go with Joseph.

    1. Dear Ellen Lincourt,
      I agree with you completely. It was too hard, and I went with Joseph also, for the same reasons, thinking about his gift. Also a fan of his hagiography, and the Thorn Tree from his staff that is supposed to be at Glastonbury. Thanks, Anne

    2. Agree 100%. Anna's story is inspiring, modern, and right up the alley and in the wheelhouse of what our church does very well. But, Joseph of Arimathea, wow. That last loving gesture you mention essentially meant he couldn't participate in his faith's and culture's most important holiday. Imagine what it would mean to essentially sit out Christmas or Easter - the pressures of family and friends; the pressure of society - and so I am thankful for both Joseph and Anna, but Joseph gets my vote.

    3. In grade school at the convent, my piano teacher's job for the order (my school was on the motherhouse campus) was to dress the sisters for burial. She was also the school choir director. She was a little, funny, ("oh, you silly goose!") sweet lady. She also taught me to crochet!

      I agree it is a sacred task. But for the same reason that I so admire all the nuns who taught me and inspired me, who ran a worldwide organization of schools, colleges, hospitals and missions, and who were my feminist inspiration, I voted for Anna.

  2. This was a tough choice -- Famous name vs. source of the best quote on the passport pages. Lest he be forgotten in the hurly-burly of Lent Madness, I think Joseph deserves to stay uppermost in our memories.

    1. Cranmer makes it tougher! No wonder he sides with Anna in his pick. Guilt, I say. What was he doing modelling as Joseph for the official painting?!? Is this yet another LM scandal?

  3. Coming from a family of six rambunctious younguns, I'm especially impressed that Anna adopted five at the age of 55. Joseph sets a great example of loving bravery, but Anna's care for the livng, love of learning, and courageous devotion gets my vote today.

  4. Anna - just have to say WOW! What an amazing woman. Love J of A but really was so moved by Anna's life and work and heart and soul that there was no question for me today.

  5. I love the line up today. I love it everyday. I have such a soft spot for Joe and am excited to learn about Anna Cooper. Keep up the good work, Lent Madness Team! Now, onto the heavy responsibility of voting...

  6. Tough choice today. Joseph has always been high in my list of saints, but Anna is an amazing woman.

  7. This is just too tough for a Monday morning! Joseph has always had my utmost respect for his boldness in going to Pilate, and for his gentleness in the love he showed in caring for Jesus. However, learning about Anna Cooper was a bonus! What a remarkable woman she was! Ok, I guess I have to make a choice now and cast my vote....

  8. Maria Kane....have you wrought a miracle? I was prepared to vote for the underdog today but Dr. Cooper is ahead! You have done it lady! I am impressed with your bio as she was a legend in her own time and a stellar St. Aug. graduate, alma mater of my mother. Although I know it was a typo, your bio with your bucket list mentioned your "closet" friends and I still want to know who they are as they might be more interesting than your closest friends, obviously the intended group???Yes? No? Mayhaps?

    1. Thank you! Alas, it's no miracle. I, too, was impressed with Dr. Cooper; she got her PhD when she was 65! So much for retirement. I also noticed that I had written "closet" instead of "closest." While closet friends has an aura of scandal and intrigue, I meant closest friends.

      1. I just checked mine. It stops at page 24, expires in 2014, and has not one quote anywhere. It is all business, do's, don't's, and places to be stamped.
        I'd rather have inspiring quotes, especially ones like Dr. Cooper's.

        1. Mine has 28 pages, expires in 2017, and does include the quote from Anna! What a treasure to find that! I voted for Anna, though I have much admiration for Joseph.

          1. Yes, time to update those passports....Anna Cooper's quote is there! Now, just wish the voting was that easy to confirm!!

  9. Learning about Anna Julia Haywood Cooper is great and she was a wonderful person and deserving to be on this, however Joseph has always had my respect and love for choosing compassion and love over remaining ritually clean in a society which holds ritual as vastly important.
    Compassion and love will always win in my book. Joseph has my vote.

  10. I had to go get my US passport to see the quote of Dr. Cooper. My passport only has 24 pages and no quote that I could find! Have passports changed? Tough choice today indeed.

  11. I am delighted to meet Dr. Cooper, and have profound respect for her erudition, courage and perseverance - as well as for her long life!

    But there is nary a word in her write-up about the Gospel, or her faith. I don't doubt that she was nurtured by the Church and Christ throughout her journey, but without something more explicit about that dimension of her life I can't vote for her over Joseph of Arimethea, whose direct courage in a time of extreme crisis has always won my heart.

    Plus I just got to add "Arimethea" to my dictionary. Joseph!

    1. I have to agree. Although her courage and accomplishments are laudable. The lack of information tying her to the church or the Gospel move me towards Joseph. Of course I tend toward the more traditional saints anyway. I do love her quote used on the passports though. If we had a Great Americans Madness, she would get my vote for that.

    2. In 1868, when Cooper was ten years old, she received a scholarship and began her education at the newly opened Saint Augustine's Normal School and Collegiate Institute in Raleigh, founded by the local Episcopal Diocese for the purpose of training teachers to educate former slaves and their families

      Her faith ? From an early age she was exposed to the Episcopal faith and traditions. That casts more light on the topic and intensifies my pondering.

      1. Additional info -
        Also in 2009, a tuition-free private middle school was opened and named in her honor, Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School on historic Church Hill in Richmond, Virginia.

        She must have had great faith to be recognized this way. Now I know how I will vote.

    3. Exactly. Lent Madness falls into the Holy Women Holy Men trap! What is a saint in the Episcopal Church? Apparently anyone with laudable accomplishments! HWHM doesn't have anything in its biography about Cooper's faith either, or how it informed and empowered the great things she did. The church's theology of sainthood is more or less nonexistent. I admire Cooper a great deal, but I don't have any information to tell me why we are calling her a saint. She may have been deeply faithful, prayerful, and worshipful, and those qualities may have been what gave her the power to do the things she did, but evidently that's not important for us to know.

    4. Thank you for saying so well exactly what I believe about this pairing. What Joseph did was an example of courageous action performed out of strong faith. He has my vote today -- as a Lutheran I can do no other !

  12. I have voted for Anna because Joseph is well-known. Anna is a Saint for modern times -- a la Frances Perkins -- and I believe her story and life need to be better known. Not to mention that I believe her life should inform ours.

  13. I agree with Mark. I was delighted to learn of Anna but still voting for Joseph. Was the mention of the passport a ruse to see how many of us would check?

    1. perhaps it was a ruse Virginia Graves. i checked and page 24 says AMENDMENTS AND ENDORSEMENTS in 3 languages. i looked at all the pages and there is no quote to be found. hmmm. page 24 is the last page before the back cover!

      1. You have an older passport. Those issues sense 2010 (when Sec. Clinton doubled the price) now have inspiring quotes on each page.

        1. Aha! First politics injected into this exercise! Do you suppose Secretary Clinton was compelled by the true costs of post-9/11 investigations and processing of passport applications and state department budget constraints, to increase the cost?

        2. no thanks to Hillary...i got mine renewed in 2005. so it's older. now in 2015 i need a new one which will cost me the price of a trip to paris!

        3. I renewed my passport in July 2008 and it has all of the new pages, quotes, chip imbedded - all post 9/11 improvements and, along with the increased cost, brought to you be the GW Bush administration. So don't blame Sec. Clinton.

  14. Joesph of Arimathea, since he is the patron of my profession, has to get this one. I am all for equality for women in all orders of ministry, and I know that Anna Cooper is a most worthy victor if she prevails. May be best saint win!!!

  15. One of Lent Madness' most valuable qualities it educating us about all the saints who have come before us and never received the recognition which their works should have given them. Joseph's job was important and noble. Joseph has also received eons of recognition for his one, solitary action.
    Anna Julia Cooper worked tirelessly for her entire life to help those who were ignored and despised. We are told to help widows and orphanas and AJC surely did that time after time after time.
    My own personal motivation for voting for AJC results from her literary witness as well. So many of my students fo color at community college think that the Black heritage is one of slang and bling. AJC is one of the many embodiments that testify to the eloquence and nobility of the Black heritage in this country. AJC, you are my hero.

  16. Another conundrum! At first it was easy -- as a historian of the American South and a feminist, I knew Anna Cooper was my woman, without question. But then the description of Joseph of Arimathea got me thinking: that Jesus superseded the law of purity with the law of love and compassion is at the heart of my faith. ...I'm going to have to ponder this for a while. (This is so much uplifting and so much FUN!)

    1. I'm with you on the pondering. As a school librarian I served a wonderful group of HS girls from the urban parts of NJ. They and their families sacrificed so these gals could attend private school in order to have a chance at a safe and quality education - no easy task in the Newark NJ area. So my first choice was Anna Cooper. On the other hand the supporting points for Joseph have me reconsidering my initial reaction. -- Will vote later today.

  17. My DEAR Friend Doris Rosa, just turned 90 years old , and she has spent her life walking in the foot steps of Anna. Doris is a life long Episcopalian a native of Philadelphia, a civilian employee of the Navy during World War II, a NYC public school teacher for many years, I vote for Anna in Doris's Honor.

  18. This was a tough one, but I had to go for Joseph of Arimathea. He had to decide between what was was more important, the law of purity or the compassion that Jesus taught. He was a brave man to go with the compassion.
    This is not to say Anna Cooper is anything less. She did amazing things for this country, especially for an African American women in the late 19th, and the 20th century. In my eyes Joseph only won by 1%. This was a hard one.

  19. Of course, I loved Anna. What a woman! A great model for anyone.

    But I voted for Joseph. First, he took the body when all the other disciples fled. Had he not done that, the body would have simply stayed on the cross. Then he laid the body in a "new" tomb and sealed it with a rock. A small detail but important. Had he re-used a tomb, as was the custom, there might have been bones there and the tomb would not have been "empty" on Easter. An important contribution. But mostly, I love his faithfulness...his willingness to put himself in danger to do appropriate care for Jesus.

    1. Agree with you Martha. I love Lent madness! I've truly never reflected on the bravery of this man, who gets a few sentences in the Bible, yet came to Pilate and cared for the body of our (in a few days from then) risen Christ and savior. It was not the disciples that took the body of our Lord for burial. It was not the disciples that first saw our risen Lord (sorry, gotta throw some props to the ladies that first saw and believed) My vote goes to the folks getting things done in the immediate aftermath - when the outcome was still uncertain.

  20. All the choices have been hard ones........with friends in the funeral business who do for families and our family what Joseph did for Jesus and his ; and my brothers and I are teachers who enjoyed inspiring young folks...........but again I seem to side with the underdog here, Joseph..........he stepped up and fulfilled what he was destined to do.

  21. I went with Joseph, because without him what would have come of the passion of our Lord? That said, I was touched by Anna's story, and would be very happy if she won as well. I wonder if Joseph would do better if we were closer to holy week.

  22. A teacher with passionate beliefs about equality and freedom for all! What an inspiration for us all to look up to and model living our lives after. However, Joseph reminds me of Jesus washing his disciples feet, a ritualistic cleansing after a horrible, torturous death...arghhh! This one has me torn as Day 1 did.....

  23. As the chaplain at Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School, I must emphasize how this godly woman's legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of my students every day. Celebrated her day of prayer on Feb 28!

  24. My vote went to Anna, to this day my diocese supports St. Augustine College. May we all work to help lift those up whom others would limit!

  25. Joseph of Arimathea appears to be a one-hit wonder. Sure, that one hit was an important act of compassion and perhaps remorse, but what else did he do? It also perhaps was not as difficult for him to do, as a man of stature in his society. Anna Cooper, on the other hand, had to fight for most things, and continued to do so most of her life. The choice is clear to me.

    1. What else did he do? There are extra-scriptural accounts of missionary work he did in far-flung places, and probably after burying Jesus he'd burned his political and professional bridges. He was a follower of and believer in Jesus by all accounts, and he acted on that faith--something that WAS difficult to do (not to mention extremely brave), considering Jesus had just been executed as an enemy of the state. Anna Cooper is more modern and therefore we have more witnesses and accounts to her life--we know more about the things she did. But, for me, this is not a contest about who did the most stuff. 🙂