Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid. Mark 15:46-47
In his book The Good Funeral, the theologian and pastor Tom Long reflects on presiding at burials: “It’s not that ministry is fundamentally different at a funeral; it’s just that the urgency of it is more apparent. At a baptism there is almost always an uncle with a video cam, beaming and circling the font; at a wedding, some bridal coordinator is often in the wings, barking orders and directing the choreography. But at a grave, the grinning uncles and know-it-all wedding consultants have vanished. This is death, and no one knows exactly what to say or do.”
The death of Jesus took place in a context in which people had a sense of how to respond when someone died. Joseph of Arimathea’s actions are fairly typical of first century Jewish burial customs: the body of the deceased would be wrapped in a linen cloth, laid in a tomb, and eventually anointed with spices. Yet, while the disciples of Jesus knew essentially what to do when he died, they were almost certainly plagued by a sense of dislocation and fear. These ritual actions, prescribed by Law and tradition, were meant to shepherd them through a time of confusion and help them trust that God continues to be faithful in even the most desperate circumstances.
In the popular imagination, Christians go through life oblivious to the pain and suffering of the world. In fact, it is the wider society, in its desire to make sure that we are always comfortable, that tends to ignore, or at least contextualize suffering. When understood properly, our faith allows us to confront the harsh realities of the world honestly, because ultimately we are a people of hope. On Holy Saturday, we are called to remember the heart of Christianity: a radical trust that God remains faithful in even our darkest moments.
Help us, we pray, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and trust in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection to life everlasting. Amen.
The Rev. David F. Romanik
Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr