THE EVENTS IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING
THE DEATH OF CHRIST
“The soldiers therefore came: and they broke the legs of the first, and of the other that was crucified with him. But after they were come to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers with a spear opened His side, and immediately there came out blood and water.” (St. John, xix., 32–34.)
The next events after the death of Christ are described by St. John (xix., 31–37) as follows:
“Then the Jews, that the bodies might not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day (for that was a great Sabbath day), besought Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. The soldiers therefore came: and they broke the legs of the first, and of the other that was crucified with him. But after they were come to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers with a spear opened His side, and immediately there came out blood and water. And he that saw it hath given testimony: and his testimony is true. And he knoweth that he saith true: that you also may believe. For these things were done that the scripture might be fulfilled: You shall not break a bone of Him. And again another scripture saith: They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”
THE LAST EVENTS IN THE HISTORY OF THE PASSION
“And taking Him down, he (Joseph) wrapped Him in fine linen, and laid Him in a sepulchre, that was hewed in stone, wherein never yet any man had been laid.” (St. Luke xxiii., 53.)
What the four evangelists narrate concerning the last events of the history of the Passion may be summed up as follows:
After all these things, that is, after the Heart of Jesus was opened, there came a certain rich man of Arimathea, named Joseph. He went in boldly to Pilate and asked the body of Jesus. But Pilate wondered that He should be already dead. And sending for the centurion he asked him if He were already dead. And when he had understood it by the centurion, he gave the Body to Joseph, and commanded that it should be delivered to him. And Nicodemus also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes about an hundred pound weight. And Joseph brought linen.
They took, therefore, the body of Jesus down and wound it in a clean linen cloth with the spices. Now there was in the place where He was crucified, a garden: and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein no man yet had been laid. There they laid Jesus because of the Parasceve, that is, this circumstance caused them to select a tomb which was nigh at hand. However, they had no intention at all of depositing the body in another tomb afterwards. Joseph then rolled a great stone against the door of the monument. And the holy women, sitting over against the sepulchre, beheld where and how His body was laid.
And they returned, because the Sabbath drew on, and, on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. The evangelists here describe three scenes:
I. The taking down from the cross of the Sacred Body,
II. The preparation for the burial and
III. The burial itself.
I. The taking down from the cross of the Sacred Body
In the removal of the body from the cross, let us first consider the persons who took part in it. Among them, Joseph of Arimathea appears to be the most prominent. All the four evangelists have something to report of him. It seems as if they meant to express their joy that at last a wealthy and prominent man also showed interest in and sympathy for the Redeemer. For it is, indeed, beautiful and edifying to see the rich and prominent of the laity labor for Christ and for His Sacred Body, whether, as a heroic phalanx of enthusiastic warriors, they defend the mystic Body of the Lord, Holy Church, and her rights, or they bend the knee to His Sacramental Body and receive Him devoutly in Holy Communion.
To return to Joseph of Arimathea, St. Matthew says that he was a rich man. St. Mark calls him a noble counsellor; St. Luke, a good and a just man who had not consented to the counsels and doings of the Sanhedrim. St. John tells of him that he was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews. These last words do not attach any odium to Joseph. Undoubtedly it is never excusable to deny one’s religious convictions, nor, in the councils of the mighty, to consent, against one’s conscience and from human respect, to the impious decrees of the majority. But there are cases in which without sin one may conceal one’s religious convictions, as, for instance, if a question be put by one having no right to ask it and if an answer would have bad rather than good effects.
The Redeemer certainly approved of the reasons which Joseph had of not openly declaring himself for Him, otherwise He would not have recognized him as a true disciple. The other man who appeared towards evening on Golgotha was Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a pharisee, a lawyer and a teacher in Israel. He also was a secret disciple of Jesus. He had often visited the Lord at night to receive instructions in the mysteries of the faith. At a meeting of the pharisees, he with Joseph, had openly declared for Christ. At the midnight session in the house of Caiphas and at the session of the great council on the morning of Good Friday they both had been absent. For St. Mark mentions in express terms that all who were gathered there condemned Christ as being guilty of death.
Formerly, then, when Christ worked miracles and all the people followed Him, Joseph and Nicodemus were His disciples secretly, for fear of the Jews. Now, however, after Christ died the shameful death of the cross, they declare themselves openly as His adherents, and all their fear has vanished. Who does not here recognize the glorious fruits of the Redeemer’s death and the power of grace purchased by Christ!
The arrival of these men was a great relief to Mary and to the other women. For, if the Roman soldiers had taken down the body and buried it, it would have been very pitiable and dishonorable indeed. The body of the Saviour would have been interred with the corpses of the two thieves in the place reserved for criminals. This thought had filled with pain the heart of the dolorous Mother. Joseph therefore offered to request of Pilate the privilege of caring for the burial. It was an easy matter for him to prevail on the captain to await Pilate’s decision as to the interment. Although to appear as the friend of a criminal, and that before the judge himself, required much temerity and was attendant with great risk, and although Joseph would thereby draw down upon himself the anger and even the vengeance of the Sanhedrim, nevertheless, at Mary’s desire and under her protection, as it were, he courageously went to Pilate and begged for the body of Jesus.
Pilate wondered that Jesus was already dead. For the crucified often hung upon the cross for a long time before dying, He was not satisfied with the statement of Joseph. He demanded an official declaration, for which reason he sent for the captain who had been charged with the execution. It is, then, from the lips of the captain that we also are made aware officially and in due form that Christ really died. The petition of Joseph was granted. According to St. Anselm, he described to Pilate in touching words the woe of the Mother of Jesus, and how she would be greatly consoled if her Son, her only Son, were buried in a worthy manner.
It may be that Joseph also mentioned the innocence of Jesus. Undoubtedly he also offered a large sum to Pilate whose avarice was well known. Still Pilate deemed it unworthy of an honorable man to make the sale of a criminal’s corpse a source of revenue. He was high-minded enough to give Joseph the body. He therefore ordered the captain to give up the body to Joseph, for he had already abandoned it to the executioners. Pilate little knew what he was doing. Otherwise he would have given Joseph his entire property rather than let him take that Sacred Body, the possession and consumption of which are a pledge of eternal life and which is the seed of immortality for the bodies of mortal men.
But do not many Christians resemble Pilate in that they, to please others, carelessly cast away imperishable goods, the most precious of all?
After their return to Golgotha, Joseph and Nicodemus, assisted by some servants, took, with the greatest reverence, the body of Jesus down from the cross, and, after removing the crown from the head, they laid the body in the lap of His Mother. This, then, is the Sacred Body which she once bore, which she nursed and cared for, which, with motherly love, she had carried to Egypt.
The Holy Face is now pale, the divine eye is dim, the divine mouth is silent and the Sacred Heart beats no more. How Mary must have gazed upon this Sacred Body and wiped away from it the drops of blood! For it was the body of her only, most beloved, divine Son; it was the body of her cruelly tortured and withal innocent Son. To whom shall I compare thee or to whom shall I liken thee to comfort thee, O holy Mother of the dead Redeemer! For great as the sea is thy sorrow. She who was queen, has become as a widow; gone is her beauty and her glory, and clouds of sadness have encompassed her brow. Her adversaries have become enriched.
When the mothers of Bethlehem received in their arms the children murdered by Herod’s menials, cries of woe filled the air; their lamentations and their despair might have moved to pity the rocks which echoed them. But the Mother of Jesus, although her heart was bleeding from a thousand wounds, bethought herself of the word which her Son had addressed to her from the cross. Heroically she offered up to Divine Justice the Sacred Body, which she was holding in her arms and moistening with her tears, as the redeeming price for us who are the children of her sorrow.
After the Sacred Body was taken down from the cross, preparations were begun for the burial.
II. The preparation for the burial
After the return of Joseph and of the captain from Pilate, the bodies of the two thieves, which in the meantime had been taken down from the crosses, were buried by the Roman soldiers. When the body of the Saviour had also been taken down, the three crosses with the nails and the titles of guilt were lowered into a deep excavation which was soon again filled with earth. After the soldiers had thus done their duty, the captain gave the command to return to the citadel.
Now we see on Calvary only the Mother of Jesus and a few of His friends who are taking the necessary steps to render to the dead Saviour the last honors. For He had left no instructions regarding His own burial. He knew that He would die a criminal’s death, and criminals sentenced to death by a court had no right to dispose in any manner of their bodies. In the humility of His heart, Christ abided by this custom. He knew, furthermore, that He would remain in the tomb only a few hours. And to make arrangements for such a short time seemed too unimportant to Him. It may be well enough for those who must remain in their graves until the day of judgment, especially for those for whom the funeral is indeed the last honor paid to them, as in hell they are abandoned to eternal disgrace.
Joseph and Nicodemus, then, took charge of the arrangements. Nicodemus brought about a hundred pounds of a mixture of myrrh and aloes, while Joseph brought linen. In this linen they wrapped the body of Jesus along with the spices as it is customary at Jewish funerals. What would Judas have said to it? In his day it was only one pound; here there are even a hundred. But the pious men wished to show respect to the body of Him Whom they knew to be the Son of God. We also now understand the significance of the gift of myrrh brought by the pagan Kings. The preparation of the sacred body could, however, not be carried out just now according to the regular manner, as the interment had to be finished before sun-down.
Wherefore, for the time being, the spices and the sacred body were wrapped in the linens and they agreed to return to the sepulchre after the Sabbath on the morning of Easter to supply what was wanting. These men and women, with the exception, of course, of the Blessed Virgin, seemed to be so overpowered by sadness, grief and love that they took no account whatever of the fact that on the third day Christ would arise from the dead and be in the tomb no more. We now come to the closing scene, to the burial of Jesus Christ.
III. The burial itself.
The preparations were then,made, as well as time would permit. Now the funeral procession started on its way. On the one hand, it was indeed the most simple, but on the other, it was the most sacred and most holy funeral procession ever seen upon earth. The body being carried to the grave is the body of the Son of the living God. The pall-bearers are Joseph and Nicodemus, two noble laymen, with their servants. From among the clergy, the bier was accompanied by St. John, a bishop of the Catholic Church, and, according to a tradition mentioned by St. Anselm, by St. James, also a bishop of the Catholic Church, and by St. Peter, the appointed pope and prince of the apostles. These two latter had arrived on Golgotha towards evening, when the people and most of the enemies of Christ had returned to the city, and they came in time to take part in the funeral solemnity.
As chief mourner, the sorrowful Mother, the Queen of heaven and earth, walked behind the bier. Then followed Magdalene and the nearest relatives of the Saviour. Lastly came some pious women singing the funeral dirge. I cannot help but imagine that along the route of the funeral procession, the trees inclined their heads and the flowers their coronas, and that the birds of heaven sang their saddest lays. Invisible in the air, the holy angels were hovering. They had seen much since the day of their creation. But they had never seen a God-Man carried as a corpse to the tomb. Meanwhile the cortege had reached the near-by grotto in the rocks over which cypresses spread their shadows.
The men entered with the body and laid the Redeemer upon His bed of stone. Outside, the blood-red sun cast its dim and quivering rays upon a group of women mutely sitting upon the ground. Great as the sea was their sorrow. “And the women,” says Holy Writ, “that were come with Him from Galilee were sitting over against the sepulchre, they beheld where He was laid and saw how His body was laid.”
After the men had come out from the sepulchre, they closed the door and rolled before it a large stone. For if curious people, after opening the door, should forget to close it again carefully, wild beasts might find their way into the sepulchre which was by all means to be guarded against. At this moment, the sound of trumpets from the pinnacles of the temple announced the beginning of the great Sabbath, and the men and women with Mary hurried back to Jerusalem as the law required. It appears that some of the pious women had gone sooner. At least St. Luke speaks of women who were preparing spices and ointments before the beginning of the Sabbath, whereas others did this on the following evening after the Sabbath was over. At any rate, we may remain a moment to survey somewhat closer the sepulchre and its environment.
The sepulchre of Christ was in a garden. Our first parents had sinned in a garden. In a garden Christ had begun His passion. He had been taken captive in a garden. In a garden, therefore, the history of His passion should end. In gardens, moreover, seeds are deposited in the ground. Now Christ’s body was the most precious seed ever planted in the ground. It should then be deposited in a garden. Even on the holy day of Easter the most glorious fruits began to spring from this grain of seed, inasmuch as, through the power of this Sacred Body, many bodies of the departed just were raised to life, thus exemplifying in advance the general resurrection on the last day.
The sepulchre itself was in the form of a rotunda and was so high that a man could reach the top only with an extended hand. It consisted of an ante-chamber and of a small burial place destined for one person. The entrance to the sepulchre was on the east side and was very low. To the right, on the north side, at an elevation of three feet was the tomb proper. It was hollowed out, so that the sacred body reposed in a real stone coffin. Of this grave, the evangelists record three circumstances.
First, that it was hewn in a rock. Therefore the apostles could not possibly steal the body by constructing a subterranean passage to the tomb. Besides the corner stone must rest upon the rock. Then they call this tomb a new sepulchre in which no one had yet been buried. And indeed the respect due to the Sacred Body demanded that it be no more brought in contact with the bodies of sinners. Had it been a family vault, doubt might have been entertained on Easter day as to who the Risen One really was. And had it even been the tomb of a prophet, one might have said that the miracle of Eliseus had been repeated; that Christ had returned to life not through His own power but through contact with the body of the prophet.
The sepulchre of Christ was new also in the sense that it had never had its equal. For this sepulchre was the workroom of resurrection; it was the decay and destruction of all graves; it was the tomb in which death should die the death; it was the only glorious tomb.
Thirdly this tomb was the tomb of another. As Christ had in life possessed nothing whereon to lay His head, He possessed nothing in death. Another’s tomb!
Whoever wishes to remain in a place only a few hours, will not build a house of his own there but he will seek shelter in the house of another. Another’s tomb! He who dies not for his own sins but for the sins of others, has not even a right to a tomb of his own. Another’s tomb! Whoever acquires a tomb of his own, thereby declares his subjection to the reign of death. Now Christ was the Lord of death.
The mighty giant had become somewhat fatigued on His journey of thirty-three years. He would now take some rest and, on the third day, He would with a mighty arm deal death the death-blow. Another’s tomb! But to whom did it belong? Whose property was it? It belonged to Joseph of Arimathea. How fortunate and enviable this man was, to have the honor of furnishing, on his own property, a resting place for the body of the God-Man.
How his courage is now rewarded! How his spirit of sacrifice is now richly indemnified! But does not the same good fortune fall to a city and to a Catholic parish which harbors the same Sacred Body under the appearance of bread on its own property, in its church? Does not a greater honor, even, redound to us, when we receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion? Does not our heart then really become the sepulchre of the Body of Jesus Christ?
If we would, then, receive in our heart the Body of the Lord, no one else should dwell therein, neither the world nor the evil one. It ought to be even free from venial sin. It ought to be as pure and immaculate as were the linen cloths. It ought to be replete, furthermore, with the costliest spices, with the good odor of all Christian virtues. And after we have devoutly received the Body of the Lord into our heart, we should not forget to close the door. We ought also to roll a large stone before that heart so that no wild beast may find it in its power to deprive us of the Redeemer.
The men and women, then, had accompanied the Blessed Virgin back to Jerusalem and, according to the commandment, they rested on the Sabbath. Nor were they in the right mood for any worldly matters. Their minds and hearts were with the crucified Redeemer. The women thought of the ointment which they would purchase after sundown and take to the sepulchre on the following day. Peter and Magdalene, however, who, on the preceding day, had shed so many bitter tears, spent the Sabbath in mourning and sorrow.
We may here recognize the best preparation for the approaching feast of Easter. Removed from the world and its tumult, let us meditate with devotion upon the sufferings of the crucified Redeemer. Let us consider what we may do for His honor. First of all, let us deplore our sins out of love for the Saviour. This is also the best preparation for that paschal feast which shall close the passion-tide of this life and which shall last not merely one day but for all eternity.
(Fr. James Groenings. The Passion of Jesus and Its Hidden Meaning: A Scriptural commentary on the Passion (pp. 399-412). TAN Books. Kindle Edition.)
Remember – Our Lady needs us to obey: First Saturdays of Reparation, daily rosary, at least 5 mysteries, wear her brown scapular and live your Total Consecration to her Immaculate Heart, offering daily duties in reparation and for the conversion of poor sinners.
Open your hearts to the Lord and serve Him only: and He will free you from the hands of your enemies. With all your heart return to Him, and take away from your midst any strange gods” (I Kings 7:3)
✝︎ Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of our hearts, Mother of the Church, do thou offer to the Eternal Father the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the conversion of poor sinners, especially our Pontiff.
✝︎ Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Thy kingdom come! Viva Cristo Rey!
✝︎ St. Joseph, protect us, protect our families, protect our priests.
✝︎ St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
~ by evensong for love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, King. Vouchsafe that I may praise thee, O Sacred Virgin! Give me strength against thine enemies!