Devotion, 4-19-14, Holy Saturday

Luke 23:50-56

50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning.* 55The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

Jesus breathed his last at 3 PM on Friday – the gospels agree on the timing, which is odd; it is the sort of detail on which you would expect variance in eye-witness reports. Given that he then had to take time to go to Pilate and ask for permission to take the body, it must have been getting near sundown when Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ body, anointed it with the spices he was able to obtain quickly, and wrapped it in a linen cloth. Other gospels say the tomb was his own – but whether it was his own, or one he purchased quickly, it was nearby, for he had to complete the burial before sundown. Luke says it was hewn of the rock – it is fairly common, I learned in the Holy Land, for people to carve rooms, even homes, out of the limestone rock. And there Joseph laid the body, and rolled the tomb closed with a great stone. The stone was a round stone wheel, looking almost like a mill-wheel, and it rolled in a track carved into the stone at the mouth of the cave. We saw such a tomb when we visited Israel – they call this site The Garden Tomb, and it is an alternate site for the crucifixion and burial. The traditional site is at the Church of the Holy sepulcher. On the day we were there a group of African Christians gathered outside the tomb, and cried out their grief at the death of the Lord. But inside the door (the round stone no longer closes the space but a door has been installed) there is a sign saying, “He is not here, he is risen.”

The women watched as Joseph laid the body to rest. These women had followed Jesus from Galilee; they had supported his ministry in all sorts of ways, from financial to caring for the group. At the end, when the disciples had fled out of fear, they stayed, and they watched. But as sunset approached they went back to the place where they were staying and began to prepare spices and ointments. But with sunset came the Sabbath – and the scripture is silent about anything happening on that Sabbath. So far as we know, Jesus lay in the tomb, in the darkness of death.

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