Holy Saturday, April 3

Reader: “Since the tomb was close at hand,”

Response: “they laid Jesus there.”

Scripture:  John 19:38-42

Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away. With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth. The place of crucifixion was near a garden, where there was a new tomb, never used before. And so, because it was the day of preparation for the Jewish Passover and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.” 

Response: “Thanks be to God. ” 

Some thoughts:

Some background on the above paragraph may be helpful. Joseph of Arimathea was an influential leader and member of the Sanhedrin who did not support the idea to kill Jesus (Mk.15:43). Nicodemus, who had visited Jesus at night, likewise a member of that same high council, had earlier defended Jesus before the Pharisees claiming the law was not being followed in judging Jesus (Jn.7:50-52). These two men took a significant risk in asking for the body of Jesus as they could have been ousted from the Sanhedrin for their actions. In contrast, all the disciples fled in fear for their own lives (Jn. 20:19).

Taking a body off a cross required official permission to prevent friends from taking a body before death had occurred and reviving the crucified person. Jewish law prevented dead bodies from remaining within the city walls overnight, so corpses were removed, washed, anointed with perfumes and wrapped in linen strips, though some were wrapped in a single shroud. They were buried on the same day as the death occurred.The seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes was an unusually large amount, the quantity reserved for a king. Jesus received a king’s burial that Friday evening before sundown and the beginning of the Sabbath thanks to Joseph and Nicodemus.

(It was believed that that soul lingered by the corpse for three days before departing. Jesus waited to resurrect Lazarus until the fourth day confirming in the Jewish mind that Lazarus had actually died and that Jesus was not reviving a fainted body or bringing him out of a coma.) 

We read in Luke’s gospel that a group of women had also purchased spices after the end of the Sabbath on Saturday evening when shops reopened, not to embalm Jesus’ body, but to help cover the stench of a decaying corpse. By the time they made their purchase, it was too late to go to the tomb, so they planned to come back early on  Sunday morning to finish their task (Mk. 16:1-2). We turn now to looking at the impact of the event.  

Had you or I been one of the believers in Jesus, this day of the crucifixion would have been the worst of our lives. We had seen what Jesus had done with our own eyes. We followed him everywhere. We’d seen him raise Lazarus and were at the party at Mary and Martha’s house. We were there when he healed blind people instantly and saw him walk on water and so much more. We heard him say firsthand that he was the Son of God. He actually forgave our sin, something only God could do. He said the kingdom of heaven was among us. He rode into Jerusalem as king! Then everything went south, and he was killed. I guess we were wrong about him. Talk about being depressed!

But think about it. What were his last words? He said, “It is finished.” What did he mean by that? Had we been fooled? 

(This next part is a bit of a review in case you missed it the first time, but it’s significant in the biggest picture.)

Later, we would learn that what was finished was the work he came to do. If I recall, there was another time when, after the sixth day of the week, God the Father had finished his work of creation and rested on the seventh day, the Sabbath, and called it holy. But unlike the other six days of creation, God did not say “it was evening and it was morning” in regard to this seventh day. Why omit those words? In a similar pattern, the Son of God also finished his work on the sixth day of the week and rested in the tomb on the holy Sabbath. But Jesus rose on the eighth day ushering in a new era as he paved the way for resurrection for all believers. 

God did not say “it was evening and it was morning” in regards to his Sabbath rest at creation because we have yet to enter our final rest.  Our Sabbath Day is not over as we await the Eighth Day, our future resurrection when Jesus returns in the Second Coming to lead all people ultimately either to eternal life or to judgment (2  Cor. 5:1-10). As Paul writes in First Corinthians, “Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.” We are currently in that Sabbath awaiting his return. Then the Sabbath will have an “evening and morning” as we enter eternal life where there is no evening and morning but one glorious day!

Music:  “Messiah” Part II    Rivertree Singers & Friends Choral Festival



O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.   ―BCP