Saturday, April 11, 2009
There is no credible historical or religious writing that makes any allusion to any other fact than that Jesus Christ died on the cross and was buried in a nearby tomb. He was not miraculously raised up to Heaven, he was lowered down from the cross, likely by his friends and followers, or by workers hired by Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph was a rich man who also had become a follower of Jesus and believed in his teachings. Joseph had stepped forward to donate a nearby tomb which he owned as the final burial place of Jesus, and thus had asked for the body. His wealth and his status in the community as a member of the 'Sanhedrin', a local governing council, impressed Pilate enough that he granted Joseph permission. When you think about this particular act, think a little more deeply. Roman law at the time was actually against this very type of action, because the authorities feared that such a tomb would become a shrine of pilgrimage. There has been some speculation through time that Pilate granted the request simply because of Joseph's status in the community, or possibly some bribe or payment from Joseph. There is also speculation that it was a simple matter of conscience. Pilate believed that Jesus was innocent of any crime, let alone one for which he should have been put to death. He stated this numerous times in the hours leading up to the crucifixion. At least a part of his decision to allow the burial at Joseph's tomb may have come simply from feelings of guilt. Approval for this act of charity was granted by Jesus' family as well, and so the cross was lowered and the battered, bloody, and lifeless body of Christ was removed from it. We think about the drama surrounding Jesus' passion and many of the events surrounding his death and resurrection, but we rarely contemplate the most minute details as Joseph and his friend Nicodemus would have dealt with them in the aftermath of the crucifixion. The reality would be that men had to remove the long nails from Christ's hands and feet. They would have had to untie his arms. Someone would have had to remove the mocking crown of thorns from his head. His body would have then been wrapped and carried away towards Joseph's tomb, which was not far from Golgotha. Items involved in the crucifixion such as the nails, the rope, the crown of thorns, and even the cross itself on which Christ hung were most assuredly taken by some of Jesus' followers or by others who believed these artifacts would have some material value as souvenirs, if not by Joseph and Nicodemus themselves. Before being laid in the tomb, Joseph and Nicodemus would have had the body brought to a room where they cleaned it, prepared it for burial with myrrhs and aloes, and wrapped it in a linen cloth. Jesus' mother Mary, and his close friend and follower Mary of Magdalene, were both present throughout the entirety of the process as he was lowered from the cross, transported to the burial place, prepared for burial, and finally laid in the tomb. It was likely their intention to both ensure that he receive proper treatment, and they also planned on returning to the tomb at some point to apply further oils and spices to the body, a process that normally took place over a few days. Finally, Christ's body was carried into the tomb, likely with a small, somber ceremony of simple witness and prayer possibly only involving Joseph, Nicodemus, and the two Mary's, as Jesus' other followers had fled into hiding. A large stone was then ordered to be rolled into place to seal the tomb. On the following day, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate and asked that guards be posted at the sealed tomb for three days, because they understood the significance of the belief that Christ was the Messiah, and that it was foretold that he would rise on the third day. The officials feared that Jesus' followers would come by night, remove the body from the tomb, and then claim that Jesus had risen from the dead in fulfillment of the prophecies. Pilate granted this request, and either Roman centurions or Temple guards went to the tomb, ensured that it was secure, and then stood a vigilant watch. All through the day on Saturday, and through Saturday night into early on Sunday morning, Jesus' battered, cold, dead, wrapped body lay in that tomb in utter darkness.