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"Sir, we wish to see Jesus" John 12:21
Burial   BURIAL

The trial of Jesus by the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, began at 9 A.M. on Friday. He was convicted, condemned, and crucified by noon. By 3 P.M. he had died. The Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday so his followers and supporters felt the urgency to remove his body from the cross and bury him before the Sabbath. No such work could be done on the Sabbath and a day’s delay in fulfilling the mitzvah of burying the dead, especially in the holy season of Passover, would seem like an extra cruelty heaped upon the injustice of his cruel, though in those days, usual punishment. Joseph of Arimethia, a sympathizer who was also well connected, himself and a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Council, went to Pilate and requested permission to bury Jesus’ body. Permission was granted and Joseph buried Jesus in his own tomb that was newly hewn out of the rock and had never been used.

Only the very rich could afford such a tomb. A cave would be carved by hand into a rock face. The chamber would be the size of a small bedroom in a house today. Along one wall a bench would be carved from the stone. The body of the deceased would be placed there wrapped in the windings of the grave wrappings. The body would decompose within a year and all that would remain would be the bones. These would be gathered and placed in ossuaries (bone boxes) made of clay or stone. These ossuaries would be placed in niches carved into the walls of the tomb. Thus, a whole family, and several generations of the family, could be buried in the same tomb. Lastly, a stone wheel and trough for the wheel was carved at the mouth of the tomb. The wheel could be rolled in the trough to seal the tomb to keep out animals and robbers. Poignantly, many scriptures suggest the rich themselves were robbers and could not have obtained their wealth otherwise. So one text speaks of the Messiah saying, “They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”

Put to rest in time for the day of rest at least one scripture relates that Jesus continued to work on that Sabbath of his death. His body was laid in the tomb and rested, but his soul, separated from his body went to Sheol, the Hebrew name for the abode of departed souls. There he preached to them as he did on earth among the living.

One of the profound effects of Jesus’ burial was that it removed the ritual impurity of death. In the Torah’s purity laws, contact with the dead defiles a person and renders them unclean. They could not enter the Temple until they have undergone the proscribed purification. The Temple was the domain of God, of life, and death is its opposite, and the absence of God. Even Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Death is for the forsaken of God. But how can God forsake God, the Father forsake his Son? He cannot and does not. So even though Jesus dies and is buried he is not defiled by death. Rather, he renders death clean. It no longer has its power to defile. This is why his followers no longer felt the need to bury the dead apart from the living but could bury them even beside or in the churches they built for the worship of God.

(Painted by Caravaggio)

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