The Fourteenth Station: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb
+We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
Because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.
“Now there was a virtuous and righteous man named Joseph who, though he was a member of the council, had not consented to their plan of action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea and was awaiting the kingdom of God. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. After he had taken the body down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb in which no one had yet been buried. It was the day of preparation and the sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come from Galilee with him followed behind, and when they had seen the tomb and the way in which his body was laid in it, they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils. Then they rested on the sabbath according to the commandment.” Luke 23:50-56
After taking Jesus’ body down from the cross, Joseph of Arimathea laid Him in a tomb in which no one else had ever been laid. The tomb would have had an entrance with a low doorway that entered into a burial chamber with several slots in which bodies would be laid. The entrance to the tomb would then be closed off with a large stone fitted into a groove and rolled into place, which could then be rolled away to access the tomb for future burials. Luke mentions that no one had yet been buried in this tomb, so it would be empty except for Jesus’ body.
The Gospel According to Matthew says that the tomb belonged to Joseph. It was his family tomb. In ancient Israel, it was not permitted to bury criminals in their family’s tomb for the first year. After a year, family members would gather the bones of their loved one from a common grave and transfer them to their family’s tomb. It was an act of great mercy, then, for Joseph to provide his own tomb for Jesus’ burial.
Mercy extends beyond the care of the living. It is a corporal work of mercy to bury the dead. We bury the dead in anticipation of their resurrection. It is the promise of Jesus and His Father that those who die in Christ will be raised again to new life. Jesus made this possible by His life lived in perfect obedience to the will of the Father even on to death, death on a cross (Philippians 2). He is buried with the promise of the Resurrection.
Today is the scary day. Jesus is dead. What will happen next? He said that if the temple were destroyed, in three days He would raise it up again. What did He mean by that? Those who heard Him thought He was crazy. How could He rebuild a temple in three days that took centuries to build in the first place? But, He was referring to the temple of His body. This is the promise of Jesus. Death is no defeat. Death is not the end, but the beginning of a new life. As the baby in the womb faces birth, he is torn away from the only existence he has ever known. But that “death” is really a birth to new life, and a greater life than he could ever imagine. Just as it was with our birth, so it is with our death. We are torn from the only existence we’ve ever known and born into a new life, an eternal life.
Joseph was a man who awaited the kingdom of God. He knew, then, that burying Jesus was an act of mercy because it was an act that affirmed the hope of the kingdom. It is difficult to have faith and hope in the face of death. But, in the face of death, what else is there besides faith and hope? In the face of death, we can do nothing more. We have done all we can. Death is the time to put our full faith and hope in the hands of the Father. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” May these be the dying words of every Christian!
Father, we trust in Your mercy. Having strengthened Jesus to face His Passion, we ask Your grace to strengthen us to face the struggles of this life and especially to face death full on with the faith and hope that comes from baptism into the Body of Christ. We hold tight to the promises of Jesus. He showed us the way, and we follow. Father, into Your hands we commend our spirits. Amen.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.