Via Dolorosa – Funeral Arrangements
I’ve presided over more funerals than I care to recall. When I’m the officiant, I normally volunteer to accompany the family to the funeral home as the arrangements are being made. I do this to offer a modest barrier for the bereaved from the death industry. I mean no dishonor to funeral home directors as such. They are in business and a necessary one at that. But I’ve become familiar with the sad task of picking out caskets. Oftentimes the first display – the econo-casket – is a plywood beater painted battleship gray that looks as though it might have been constructed by a junior-high shop class. I await the shudder of the grieving family. They cannot imagine their loved riding out the hope of the resurrection in that unseemly box. After that, they are shown into the display room where both the quality and price soar.
Honoring the dead has been around for as long as we humans first breathed the air of this planet. From burning pyres to pyramids, we’ve spent lavishly on loved ones that once walked amongst us. And it was no different with Jesus. As he hung dead on the cross, the perfect sacrifice for our sins, arrangements needed to be made. But who would make them? Who would risk being associated with one that had brought the full wrath of the religious elite and the capital punishment skills of Rome? John gives us the answer: Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. Near the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. ~John 19:38-42
The Book of Matthew describes Joseph as a wealthy man. Mark describes him as a member of the council. And Luke mentions that he was a dissenter when it came to the decision to have Jesus crucified. Nicodemus we met all the way back in chapter 3. He was, if you recall, the Pharisee who sought out Jesus in the middle of the night. That these two men risked their reputations, their careers, and perhaps even their lives to attend to the body of Jesus is incredibly moving. Jesus would be laid to rest in a rich man’s grave and done so with the highest honor conferred on a Jew.
As Nicodemus and Joseph lovingly labored over Jesus they may not have been aware that yet another prophecy was being fulfilled. This from Isaiah 53:9… He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Their efforts provided the ancient equivalent of what today would be the most expensive casket and the best slab of marble that money could buy. It was a lot of effort and expense for what turned out to be a very short stay.