Lenten Reader -- Day 39
Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” (John 19:31-37) ----------
Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. (Mark 15:43-45)
Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:38b-42)
Tomorrow is Easter, and you probably have already allowed your mind to push past today and begin thinking of the grand celebration that will take place commemorating the resurrection of Jesus.
Not so fast.
We would do well to remember that the people we read about in the Bible had to live this all one verse at a time. They didn’t know the end of the story as we do. They couldn’t skip ahead to the next chapter.
For them, this was Saturday. Jesus was dead and buried. The tomb was sealed shut. Hope was lying there silently in that cave.
Why should we bother thinking about Jesus’ final moments on the cross and who buried him? One answer is that there would be several false accounts that would crop up over the next several centuries, accounts which deny either the death or the resurrection of Jesus. It is essential to our faith that we affirm: Jesus was really dead. That is why they buried him.
These were not overly superstitious people; they knew when someone was dead, and they knew what to do with a dead body. You bury it.
Joseph and Nicodemus go to great personal trouble and expense to honor Jesus. Though they did not stand for him in life, they now stand for him in death, preparing his body in haste so as to get him in the tomb before sundown. They intended to go back later and remove his bones.
Of course, they never got around to that.
And everyone knew why.
Lord Jesus, your death and resurrection are the very foundation of my faith, the source of my hope and purpose, the wellspring of my salvation, the assurance of my peace and the basis for my eternal life with you. I confess that I am often so quick to jump from Good Friday to Easter Sunday that I rarely contemplate what life must have been like for those earliest followers on that Holy Saturday. Yet in the quiet darkness of that day a miracle was occurring, as all the power of evil and death were being undone. Likewise, teach me that you continue to work in hidden and unseen ways which you will reveal to me in your timing. Thank you for dying. Thank you for giving yourself up on my behalf. Show me the wisdom of waiting patiently for your return. In your saving name. Amen.