The Burial of Jesus

By the time Joseph made his way from Pilate’s palace to Golgotha, the crowds had dispersed. Most of the throngs of violent protesters and adoring followers left when the sky went dark earlier in the afternoon; those who had endured that bizarre experience scattered when the earthquake came.

Now there just seemed to be Romans milling around the crosses. Even the group of men and women who had followed Jesus so closely for the past two years were nowhere to be seen. Rumor had it that it was one of those 12 men who had betrayed their leader to the mob. Not that Joseph had any judgment to pass. After all, nobody knew he, too, was a disciple. At least, not yet; after what he was about to do, there would be no doubting his loyalties.

The mercenaries had already removed the bodies of the other criminals from their crosses; they would be thrown in mass graves and left to rot. Unless somebody intervened, Jesus’ body would meet the same fate. Even if the disciples hadn’t abandoned their Rabbi, Joseph knew the poor fishermen lacked the means to pay for a proper Jewish burial. Even Joseph, one of the wealthiest members of the Sanhedrin, could not pull together that kind of money on short notice. His personal tomb would have to suffice for his Master.

At the right cross, Joseph was startled to discover a familiar figure kneeling cautiously over the broken body of Jesus.

“Nicodemus?”

The Sanhedrin councilman looked up. He smiled. “Hello, Joseph. Have you come to do the same thing I’m here to do?”

Joseph scrambled to produce Pilate’s sealed letter releasing the body to him. “I have permission to lay him in my own tomb. It’s just across the garden. Roman guards have been ordered to help seal the cave and ensure nothing… happens.”

Nicodemus smiled again. “My friend, I’m not here to stop you.”

For the first time, Joseph noticed the loaded cart behind Nicodemus. Even over the stench of death he thought he could smell a hint of myrrh and aloe—spices used for Jewish burial.

A forgotten memory suddenly flashed to mind: one of the first times the Jewish council had attempted to arrest Jesus. When the Sanhedrin ridiculed the temple police for marveling at Jesus instead of putting him to death, only one member had risen to his defense. “Our law doesn’t judge a man before it hears from him and knows what he’s doing, does it?” Nicodemus had asked. Joseph felt shame to also remember that at the time he had been among those who mocked Nicodemus for his boldness and support of the Nazarene.

“I would appreciate your help,” Joseph admitted. Wordlessly, the two men began to adorn Jesus’ body in Joseph’s burial cloths and Nicodemus’ fragrances. Both men were rich, powerful scholars who could recite the Law from memory, but their hands fumbled with the material and clumsily spilled the expensive spices.

When they appeared to be finished, Joseph stepped back to evaluate their work. “Is it good enough?” he asked.

Nicodemus arched his brow. “Do you imagine that anything we do for him could ever be good enough?”

Together, the men gingerly laid Jesus on Nicodemus’ cart, and Joseph led the way to the tomb. “Nicodemus,” he inquired, “Did you ever speak to him personally? I never did myself…I was too afraid.”

“Once,” Nicodemus answered. “I went to him at night, in secret. I, too, was afraid.”

Joseph was impressed. “You had a private audience with Jesus?”

“An audience!” Nicodemus scoffed. “I got a strong personal lecturing from the Rabbi. I came to him a prideful fool, and I left still a fool, but a humble one for sure. He told me that I had to be born again—not of the flesh but of the Spirit—that because Yahweh so dearly loves the world, he gave his son, and those who believe in the son will live forever.” He shook his head. “I was a fool, I tell you.”

Live forever? Joseph glanced down at the lifeless form in the cart. If only Jesus had lived forever! “You must have thought he was crazy,” he said to Nicodemus.

The man plucked a purple iris from along the path and tucked it in his cloak. “That’s what I wanted to believe. I wanted him to be crazy so that I might be sane, so that the fabric of my life would not unravel at the seams. Everything he taught runs against the current of the Sanhedrin’s teachings, yet it was in being swept up by his river of truth that I really was born of the Spirit. No, Joseph, I knew from the day I spoke with him that Jesus was not crazy, and it terrified me more than the fear of others.”

Joseph could relate. He recalled the moment he first felt a stirring within his soul, a flicker of light and hope that told him without a doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was not a blasphemer. And as beautiful as it was, it had terrified him, too.

“This must be your tomb,” Nicodemus observed, “unless Pilate sends his personal guard to pay respects to all the dead.”

Snapping out of his thoughts, Joseph realized his most personal experience with Jesus had already come to an end. They had arrived at the tomb, and the Romans were waiting to seal the entrance.

He and Nicodemus lifted their Rabbi from the cart and took him inside. Laying the body on the cold stone gave Joseph an indescribable feeling in the pit of his stomach. He was grateful to have a fellow disciple at his side. “Do you really believe he was God?” Joseph intended the question to be personal but found himself speaking the words aloud.

Nicodemus removed the iris from his cloak and laid it down—not on Jesus’ body as would be proper tribute—but next to his hand, as if he thought the Rabbi might like to pick it up and smell it. “Do I believe he was God?” Nicodemus smiled for the third time that night, and even in the dimly lit tomb, the joy on his face was radiant. “Jesus is God.”

Written by Savanna

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