Today is another anniversary, one that is far more important than my own, as related in a previous Wellspring. For today is the traditional anniversary of our Lord’s death in AD 33, some 1971 years ago. That Friday afternoon, just outside the city walls, near the Damascus Gate, at about 3 p.m. the human life of Jesus expired, as He commended His spirit to His Father. The strange darkness that had covered the land for three hours gradually lifted, and hostile members of the crowd drifted away. There was no use in hurling abuse at a dead body. Joseph of Arimathea, who had been amongst the crowd, now made his way to the Governor, Pontius Pilate, to ask permission to bury Jesus. Pilate respected Joseph, who was “Nobilis Decurio”, a title of rank and respectability. Furthermore, Joseph was related to the Lord, being Mary’s uncle. Being a relative would ensure that his request would be given a favourablehearing.
A short way away, in the outer courts of the Temple, there was a surging mass of people. It was the afternoon of the 14th Nisan, the time when paschal lambs had to be slain, and the Priests were very busy. Within the actual Templebuilding a Priest was carrying out his duties as prescribed by the law of Moses. Suddenly, to his horror and amazement, he witnessed a sight that caused him to retreat hastily to the door. The great curtain that separated theHoly Place from the Most Holy began to tear apart from the top with a deep ripping sound, and as he watched, the rent proceeded right down to the base. The two sides of the curtain were then thrown back, revealing what man was not allowed to see. However, the space behind the curtain was empty. The Ark of the Covenant had not been seen since the days of Jeremiah and the Exile. The frightened Priest made a quick exit and reported what he’d seen, and other Priests accompanied him inside to confirm his testimony. To them it was a tragedy, and they couldn’t understand how it had happened, because that curtain was no flimsy veil, but a massive thick embroidered curtain, made up of several layers of curtain woven together until it was four fingers thick.
A team of horses would be needed to cause that rent. And, it had started at the top!
During the three hours of remaining daylight, Joseph and Nicodemus hurried about making preparations. They knew there was no time to deal with Jesus’ body according to the usual burial customs. A length of very expensive linen cloth was bought, and about a hundred pounds weight of unguents obtained, and these two men, together with their servants, made for the cross, and carefully lowered the bloodstained corpse from the wooden beams that held it; thepatibulum, or cross-beam, that Jesus had carried on His shoulders, and the stipes, or upright plinth that was lowered into a prepared slot in the rock. As the women watched, they then carried the body to Joseph’s new tomb. The linen cloth was spread out along one of the ledges within the tomb, and the body placed on it. Then a smaller cloth was bound round His head to prevent the jaw from falling open. It was called a soudarion. According to custom, two small coins, denarii, were placed over the closed eyes, and the linen cloth, or sindona, was drawn down over His head to the feet. Nicodemus then instructed his servants to place the unguents on the ledge on either side of the body to restrain it from rapid decomposition until the women could return on Sunday morning to wash the body and bind it in grave clothes according to custom.
All being completed, a heavy circular stone was rolled over the entrance to the tomb before everyone hastily returned home to partake of the traditional Passover meal, that had to be eaten during the evening, the beginning of the 15th day of Nisan, according to the law of Moses. This was far from being a joyful occasion for all Jesus’ followers. Everything had fallen apart. All their expectations had been dashed to pieces. The One who had taught them, inspired them, given them powers to heal and exorcise, who had produced a sense of wonder and expectancy of the manifestation of the Kingdom of God, had now been cruelly put to death. What they found so puzzling was their Master’s own word, that He expected it to happen this way, and yet, for all the powers He possessed, He let them do it without so much as a murmur of complaint. His other words, about what was to happen on “the third day” were more or less forgotten in the frightening drama of the crucifixion.
And so it was that for the 38 hours that Jesus remained dead, the prince of this world believed that he had achieved his objective. The one major obstacle to all his plans had now been removed, and for that short period of time, he sat back and enjoyed the sense of his own achievement.wel.
Thursday’s Man was in Gethsemane,
Pleading with His God to set Him free;
“For this very moment I have come,
Thy will, and not my own, be done.”
Friday’s Man was nailed upon a cross,
Adam’s gain was all of this Man’s loss;
The sun was darkened in a clear blue sky,
“All is now finished,” was His cry.
Saturday’s Man was sealed with the tomb,
Stunned were all His friends and full of gloom;
All their joyful hopes had vaporised,
Nothing was left save tear-stained eyes.