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’ followers had watched in those last moments, as Jesus gave up his spirit there on the cross. They had gone then, back into the city, into hiding, except for the women. They waited – what would happen? The Romans sometimes left bodies on crosses for a prolonged period of time, to maximize the shock value of crucifixion. But this was Jerusalem, and it was the day before the Sabbath, preparation day, and Jewish law said that if anyone was punished by death and his body hung on a tree, the body must be removed and buried the same day. Now a new character is introduced. Joseph was a good and righteous man, who came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, one who had been waiting for the Kingdom of God. (Remember Simeon and Anna, in the temple, when Jesus was a baby?) When Caiaphas called his meeting of the Sanhedrin, Joseph would have been the only one who disagreed with the decision (except for Nicodemus, who helps Joseph in John’s gospel); or, perhaps, when Caiaphas sent out his messengers to call the meeting, they would have “forgotten” to notify the dissenter! Joseph is, however, a man of standing, one able to obtain an audience with Pilate on the same day to ask for Jesus’ body. Pilate grants his request, and Joseph goes and removes the body from the cross and takes it to a near-by tomb carved in the rock, a new tomb where no one had been laid (usually, tombs would contain the bones of generations of a family). Perhaps the new tomb was one Joseph had had carved for himself. But it was nearing evening, and the Sabbath would begin with the sunset. Joseph did not have time to anoint the body properly; he simply wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in the tomb.
But the women were watching. They saw where he laid the body, and they returned to the place where they were staying and prepared spices and ointments to anoint the body. But it was dark by then – the Sabbath had come. They could not return to the tomb; they could not touch a body; they could not go out after dark on the Sabbath. And so, they waited – as Luke says, “On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.”
And so – we leave the scene today with Jesus’ body laid in a dark tomb and the stone rolled over the doorway, Joseph of Arimathea having returned to his home in Jerusalem, the disciples in hiding behind locked doors, and the women grieving and waiting for their opportunity to do one last thing for the Lord. It was a dark time, a time of grief and sorrow. They think it is the end. It is Friday night – but Sunday is coming!
The Garden Tomb