The earliest Christians followed a Jewish tradition of pausing to pray, preferably together, first thing in the morning, about mid morning, at noon, about mid afternoon, and in the evening. “Just a Note” posts are brief observations made from Scripture readings not related to a lectionary. If I have one to post, it normally appears about 9:00 in the morning, at “the hour of prayer.”
With Jesus dead, two of his secret disciples secured permission to lay the body to rest. Joseph and Nicodemus, in John 19:38-42, remove the body. They bring embalming ointment and spices. Because the Sabbath is about to start at sundown, they move Jesus quickly to a nearby tomb.
Let’s notice a few things about the way Jesus started his rest in the tomb. First, we have already established that he was known to be dead. The soldiers certified this. Surely Joseph and Nicodemus would have been looking, hoping, for signs of life. The found none, otherwise he never would have been sealed up in the tomb.
Second, Jesus’ body was appropriately anointed. His disciples buried him with no further expectation that he would rise from the dead. He was laid out according to the custom of the time, in a tomb which had never been used. This indicates that at least one of his supporters was wealthy. Carving a new family tomb out of a rock was a big deal. The tombs would be used multiple times. After a body had been laid out on a slab for some time and had decayed, the bones would be moved to an ossuary, a carved stone box, and put on a shelf or in a nook on the wall. It would take quite a while for the tomb of a family to be full. The bone box was about the size of a file cabinet drawer. Many could fit in a tomb.
Finally, although there was some rush involved, as the Sabbath was about to start, the tomb location was certainly known. Some scholars suggest that the reason Jesus’ body could not be found was because they simply stuck him in somewhere and didn’t remember where they put him. This is ridiculous. First, the owner of the tomb would know where his tomb was located. It was almost certainly marked clearly with his family name. Second, as important as burial customs were to Jews, Joseph and Nicodemus would certainly be able to remember where they buried someone when he was missing just three days later. Third, there were hostile witnesses all around. The leading Jews would certainly have paid attention to what happened. They didn’t want Jesus to disappear. You know they would have found him if possible.
The most reasonable way to view it, then, is that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took the body of Jesus, prepared it for burial, and laid it carefully but quickly in a tomb that was known to them, to the owner of the tomb, and to many other people. Jesus was laid in a known place. He simply didn’t stay there.
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