Jesus is Buried
March 31, 2021 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Midweek Lent 2021: The Passion According to St. Mark
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 15:42–15:47
Wednesday of Holy Week
March 31, 2021
“Jesus is Buried”
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
At some point in life for each of us, we face the task of caring for a loved one as death draws near, and then after death, making arrangements for laying that loved one to rest. That is what is before us this evening as Jesus is buried following his crucifixion. In this Holy Week, when we contemplate anew all that Jesus has done for us and for our salvation, the burial of Jesus marks that final act of caring and respect that his friends and followers can do for him. We want to do the same in our own lives: ensuring that the earthly remains of our loved ones are treated with the utmost dignity and respect. Jesus’ friends are named here in the text: Joseph of Arimathea, as well as Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Joses. Joseph is identified in all four Gospels as being the one who stepped forward to ask Pontius Pilate for the body of Jesus (Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42) – a very brave thing to do. In so doing, Joseph, identified as “a respected member of the council [the Sanhedrin]” (Mark 15:43), might also have been identified as a partisan and supporter of Jesus and so could have gotten into trouble for this association. Joseph is further identified in the text as someone “who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43). Luke’s Gospel tells us that Joseph had not agreed with the council’s action in condemning Jesus (Luke 23:51), and John’s Gospel reveals that Joseph was actually a disciple of Jesus, though secretly, for fear of the Jews (John 19:38). All of this gives us insight to who this individual was and the role he had in seeking Jesus’ body for burial and providing his own newly-hewn rock tomb in which to lay Jesus.
“In antiquity the execution of a condemned man did not mark the final moment of his humiliation. Roman law dictated the loss of all honors in death, and even the right of burial was determined by magisterial decree” (The Gospel According to Mark, by William L. Lane. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974; pp. 577-578). We are told by historians that more often, a family’s request for the body of a loved one who had been executed was honored, but not in cases of high treason, which is what Jesus was convicted of by Roman law (Ibid., p. 578). This helps us to understand that it really did take great courage for Joseph to do what he did, and if he had not done this, the body of Jesus might never have been buried at all. To suffer the terrible indignity of not being buried is the final humiliation that no one should suffer, not even a condemned person who has been put to death. Jewish law stipulated that the bodies of those executed were to be removed before sundown so that the entire land itself would not fall under God’s curse (Deuteronomy 21:23). The Law of Moses made clear that God’s own curse was upon those who were hanged upon a tree, and this is exactly what Jesus became for you and for me: cursed by God by taking the punishment of our sin upon himself so that we might be blessed by God as Paul the apostle writes: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13).
With Joseph’s request, Mark’s Gospel alone records Pilate’s surprise that Jesus was already dead (Mark 15:44-45). It was very common for those crucified to remain alive for 2-3 days while on the cross (Ibid., p. 579), and so Pilate needed to confirm the truth of Jesus’ death. Having done this, he then released the body to Joseph of Arimathea. None of the Gospels record whether Jesus’ mutilated and bloody body was washed before burial, but it would have been highly unlikely for Joseph to buy the linen shroud for Jesus without first washing his body. So important was this “in Jewish practice that it was a permitted action [even] on the Sabbath (Ibid., p. 580). And so Jesus was laid in that tomb. Mark’s “account speaks of some sort of stone which could be rolled into place. The may have been only a boulder, but if the tomb was an exceptionally fine one, it may have had an elaborate disc-shaped stone, about a yard in diameter, like a millstone, which was placed in a wide slot cut into the rock. Since the groove into which the stone fitted sloped toward the doorway, it could be easily rolled into place; but to roll the stone aside would require the strength of several men. Only a few tombs with such rolling stones are known in Palestine, but all of them date from the period of Jesus” (Ibid., p. 581). Once more, the prophetic words of Isaiah 53 are fulfilled in Jesus: “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9).
Two of the women who had witnessed Jesus’ death upon the cross were witnesses again at his burial: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses (Mark 15:40-41; 15:47). Scripture does not record any outward mourning or grief on their part, and so we can imagine that they bore all of this in silent pain. Although the witness and testimony of women were not accepted in Jewish culture, it is the women who will be the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection (Mark 16:1ff.). Thanks be to God that in Jesus death is not the final word.
Join us for midweek worship next Wednesday evening on April 7 as we celebrate the good news of Jesus’ resurrection (Mark 16:1-8). May the Lord who has begun this good work among us bring it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Amen.