“So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.”
from John 19:38-42
Customs have meaning, even when we rely on them to cope. In the South, our burial customs take shape early as we grow up watching grandparents and parents mourn, often through activity. Death sets events in motion for those left behind. We grow up witnessing them, until one day, we find that we are the actors. But those customs ultimately point to an underlying reality, our loved one is dead.
In John 19, Joseph and Nicodemus followed the customs, because that’s what you do when your loved one dies. Maybe it was their coping mechanism, their grieving put to action. We watch from the distance of time and are left with the unmistakable reality — Jesus really did die.
Yet despite the horrific death, His body was well cared for. Joseph was a wealthy man from Arimathea and a member of the council. Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews. Both had been secret followers of Jesus during His life, but in His death, they seemed to make their stand. Joseph asked Pilate for the body, and Nicodemus brought an abundance of burial spices. They took His body and bound it in spices. Notice, even the pronouns reinforce the reality of death. Everything in the text is for emphasis; Jesus really did die.
No doubt, there are positive glimpses here. Something in His death brought Joseph and Nicodemus out of hiding. But for all their newfound boldness, they must have felt a pervasive sadness. Jesus was dead. Was it all for naught? Did they misinterpret His teaching? His identity?
We know the rest of the story, but perhaps we jump there too quickly. Maybe we would do well to rest with the burial customs for a moment. To fully experience the joy of Sunday, we have to sit in the silence of Saturday. For them, it was the pain of a lost friend, a lost hope. For us, the silence of Saturday brings a different meaning. It’s not that we wait in feigned suspense. It’s that we need to experience the costliness of our redemption. Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of sinners, really did die — for sinners like you and me.
“Sunday is coming” is the refrain we joyfully shout on Good Friday, and praise the Lord, it's true! But it is also true that Jesus’ glory was revealed on the cross. It was His consummate act of love, and it cost Him His life. This Holy Week, as you read through John’s account of the Gospel, take the time to linger over these verses. And let the silence of Saturday magnify the sweetness of Sunday.