February 28, 2016: A Weird Gift: a Burial Tomb

Posted on : Feb 25th, 2016 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

What is the strangest gift you have ever given or received? Probably neither of those comes close to Joseph of Arimathea’s gift to Jesus. He gave Jesus a “brand new, never been used” burial tomb! And if that isn’t strange enough, he gave it to Jesus after Jesus’ death.

Today when people die without the financial means for a funeral or burial, loved ones often start a “Go Fund Me” page. Using crowdfunding technology, a group of people can each contribute something towards funeral costs. But not everyone has a community of friends who can or will help with burial costs. If you are financially indigent, the burial process becomes much bleaker.

In the Roman Empire, where Jesus was executed, only the very wealthiest, the “1%” as we now call them, were buried in tombs. Tombs were burial sites hewn out of rock formations. They were almost always built for entire families, so they had many “slabs” or shelves on which deceased family members were laid. Bodies that were to be entombed (buried in tombs) were “prepared” by anointing them with oils and very fragrant spices, then wrapping them in a linen shroud which was like a large white sheet. The body was placed in the family tomb, and then a large rock was rolled in front of the tomb to “seal” the tomb until the tomb was opened to bury the next family member.

A most interesting question is, who is Joseph of Arimathea and why did he give Jesus his family tomb? Once Jesus was buried in that tomb, it would not be used for other family members.

Joseph of Arimathea is a most interesting character in that he, like Martha in last week’s gospel story, is very wealthy. But there is one big difference. Joseph is a “secret” follower of Jesus. He, like Nicodemus, is afraid to be seen with Jesus in public and is one of those who follows Jesus in the shadows. But as a wealthy man, and a member of an influential family, he had access to Pilate (the Governor of Rome). Joseph cautiously made his way to Pilate and asked Pilate for permission to take Jesus’ body and bury it in a tomb that his family owned. In John’s Gospel, Joseph and Nicodemus bury Jesus’ body together.

Isn’t it ironic that this Joseph who hid in the shadows is now so universally known and honored? Joseph of Arimathea is venerated as a saint by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some Protestant churches. What word of hope is offered to us in this story, especially for those who would rather follow Jesus from the sideline, rather than be in the spotlight? We’ll explore that aspect of this amazing story on Sunday.

Lenten Blessings to you,



~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Mark 14: 42-47

The Burial of Jesus

Joseph of Arimathea offers his burial tomb for Jesus.

When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if Jesus were already dead; and summoning the centurion, Pilate asked him whether Jesus had been dead for some time. When Pilate learned from the centurion that Jesus was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 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.


John 19: 38-42

The Burial of Jesus

Joseph of Arimathea & Nicodemus bury Jesus’ body.

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jewish religious authorities, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so Joseph came and removed his body.

Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

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