The Sepulchre of Jesus' Body - ICWG

By Francis Fernandez

ICWG Holy Week – Holy Saturday

Signs following the death of Our Lord.

After three hours of agony Jesus died. The evangelists narrate that the sky was darkened while Our Lord was still hanging on the Cross. And extraordinary events occurred, for it was the Son of God who was to die. The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, [1548] signifying that the death of Christ had caused the cult of the old covenant to lapse. [1549] Now the pleasing cult offered to God would be through the Humanity of Christ, who is both Priest and Victim.

Good Friday evening was approaching; it was necessary to take the bodies away – they could not remain there on the Sabbath. Before the first star shone in the heavens, the bodies had to be buried. As it was the eve of the Pasch (the day of Preparation for the Passover), in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the Cross on the Sabbath (for the Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that the legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. [1550]

Pilate sent some soldiers to break the legs of the two thieves, so that they would die quickly. Jesus was already dead. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. [1551] This event, besides being an historical fact witnessed by St John, has deep significance. St Augustine and Christian tradition see the sacraments and the Church itself flowing from the open breast of Jesus. There it was that the gate of life was opened, from there the sacraments of the Church flow; without these one does not enter true life. [1552] The Church grows visibly through the power of God in the world. The origin and growth of the Church are symbolized by the blood and water which flowed from the open side of the crucified Jesus. [1553] The death of Christ pointed to the supernatural life we were to receive through the Church.

This wound, which strikes one’s breast and passes through it, is a result of the superabundance of love, and it is added to all the others. It is a way of expressing what no words can say. As Co-redemptrix, Mary understands and suffers. Her Son can no longer feel; she can. Thus to the end, is the prophecy of Simeon fulfilled: a sword shall pierce your own soul. [1554]

They lower Christ from the Cross with love and veneration. With great care they lay him in the arms of his Mother. Although his Body is all wounded, his countenance is serene and majestic. Slowly and with piety we gaze at Jesus, as the most blessed Virgin would. Not only has he ransomed us from sin and death, but he has taught us to put the will of God above all personal plans, to live detached from everything, to know how to pardon, even when the offender has not repented, to know how to forgive others, to be apostles until the very moment of death, to suffer without sterile lament, to love men although one is suffering because of them ... Don’t hinder the work of the Paraclete: seek union with Christ, so as to be purified, and feel with him the insults, the spitting, the blows, and the thorns, and the weight of the Cross ..., the nails tearing through the flesh, the agony of a forsaken death. And enter through our Lord’s open side until you find a refuge there in his wounded heart. [1555] There we will find peace. St Bonaventure speaks of this mystical life within the wounds of Christ. O how good it is to be with Christ crucified! I wish to make three resting places in him. One, in the feet; another, in the hands; the third, perpetually in his precious side. Here I would like to rest and relax, to pray and to sleep. Here I will speak to his heart and he will grant me everything I ask. O, how lovable are the wounds of our Holy Redeemer! ... In them do I live, and from their special dishes do I receive sustenance. [1556]

Let us look at Jesus slowly, and in the intimacy of our hearts say to him: Kind Jesus, hear my prayer! Hide me within your wounds, and keep me close to you. Defend me from the evil enemy. Call me at my death to the fellowship of your saints, that I may sing your praise with them through all eternity. Amen. [1557]

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.

Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, a disciple of Jesus, with influence in the Sanhedrin who has remained hidden while our Lord is acclaimed throughout Palestine, now presents himself to Pilate to take charge of the Body of the Lord. He is willing to ask for the great demand that ever has been made – the Body of Jesus, Son of God, treasure of the Church, its riches, its teaching and exemplar, its consolation, the Bread which will sustain one until life eternal. In that moment Joseph, with his petition, represents the desires of all men, of the whole Church, which needs Him to keep eternally alive. [1558]

In this disconcerting period, when all the disciples except John have fled, another disciple of great social standing, who has not been present in the triumphant hours, now comes forward. With him comes Nicodemus, the same who earlier visited Jesus by night; he brings with him a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about one hundred pounds weight. [1559]

How grateful Our Lady is for the help from these two men, for their generosity, their valour, their piety! How grateful we too are to them!

The small group which, with the Blessed Virgin and the women who receive special mention in the Gospel, takes charge of burying the Body of Jesus has little time because of the following day’s feast, which begins with sunset on this day. The Body is washed with special piety. It is embalmed (the amount of sweet smelling herbs which Nicodemus bought is considerable: about one hundred pounds in weight; it is wrapped in a new linen shroud supplied by Joseph; [1560] it is laid in a sepulchre hewn out of a rock. The sepulchre belonged to Joseph and had not previously been used. [1561] They covered his head with a napkin. [1562]

How we envy Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus! How we would have loved to be able to care, with immense piety, for the Body of our Lord. With them I too will go up to the foot of the Cross; I will press my arms tightly around the cold Body, the corpse of Christ, with the fire of my love ...; I will unnail it, with my reparation and mortifications ...; I will wrap it in the new winding-sheet of my clean life, and I will bury it in the clean rock of my breast, where no one can tear it away from me, and there, Lord, take your rest! Were the whole world to abandon you and to scorn you ... serviam!; I will serve you, Lord. [1563]

We ought not to forget, even for a day, that Jesus is in our tabernacles – alive! But He is defenceless, as on the Cross, or, as later, in the sepulchre. Christ gives himself to the Church and to each Christian so that with the fire of our love we may look after him and attend to him in the best way we can; and so that our clean life may envelop him as did Joseph’s linen cloth. But, in addition to such signs of our love, there ought to be others that require some of our money, of our time, of our effort: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were not niggardly with these other signs of love.

The Apostles beside Our Lady.

The Body of Christ lay in the tomb. The world was in darkness. Mary was the only light still burning on earth. The Mother of Our Lord – my Mother – and the women who have followed the Master from Galilee, after taking careful note of everything, also take their leave. Night falls.

Now it is all over. The work of our Redemption has been accomplished. We are now children of God, because Jesus has died for us and his death has ransomed us. ‘Empti enim estis pretio magno!’ (1 Cor 6:20), you and I have been bought at a great price.

We must bring into our own life, to make them our own, the life and death of Christ. We must die through mortification and penance, so that Christ may live in us through love. And then follow in the footsteps of Christ, with a zeal to co-redeem all mankind. We must give our life for others. That is the only way to live the life of Jesus Christ, and to become one and the same with him. [1564]

We don’t know where the Apostles were that evening while the Body of Christ was being buried. Perhaps they were hovering around, disorientated and confused: aimless, distraught, filled with sadness. If we see them together again on the Sunday, united once more, [1565] it is because on the Saturday, or perhaps on the Friday evening, they had turned to Our Lady. With her faith, her hope and her love, she protected the nascent Church, still weak and startled. Thus was the Church born – under the mantle of Mary. Thus from the beginning has she been the Comforter of the afflicted, of those under pressure. This Saturday, when everyone fulfilled the festival day of rest as the law required, [1566] was not a sad day for Our Lady: her Son had stopped suffering. She serenely awaited the moment of the Resurrection: for this reason she did not accompany the holy women who went to embalm the dead Body of Jesus.

We ought always to have immediate resort to that endlessly burning light in our lives, which is the Blessed Virgin. And more so, if, on occasion, we have left Christ and found ourselves lost, having abandoned sacrifice and the Cross, as did the Apostles. She will bring hope back to us. Our Lady is rest for those who work, consolation for those who weep, medicine for the sick, a harbour for those assailed by tempests, pardon for sinners, sweet relief for the sad, succour for those who implore. [1567] Beside her we are able to live the immense joy of the Resurrection.

[1549] cf Heb 9:1-14

[1550] John 19:31

[1551] John 19:33

[1552] St Augustine, Commentary on the Gospel of St John, 120, 2

[1553] Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium, 3

[1554] Luke 2:35

[1555] St. J. Escrivá, The Way, 58

[1556]  Prayer of St Bonaventure

[1557] Roman Missal, Act of Thanksgiving after the Mass

[1558] L. de la Palma, The Passion of the Lord

[1559] John 19:39

[1560] Mark 15:46

[1561] cf Matt 27:60

[1562] cf John 20:5-6

[1563] St. J. Escrivá, The Way of the Cross, Fourteenth Station, 1

[1564]  ibid

[1565] cf Luke 24:9

[1566] Luke 23:56

[1567] St John Damascene, Homily on the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Francis Fernandez Carvajal was born in Granada in 1938. A graduate in History from the University of Navarre, he also hold a doctorate in Canon Law from the Angelicum in Rome. He is a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature. Since his ordination in 1964, much of his pastoral ministry has been with university students. For more than ten years he was editor of he montly magazine PALABRA. Among his published works are   Lukewarmness- the Devil in Disguise, Overcoming Lukewarmness,Through wind and Waves, and Commentaries on the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke

His Series In Conversation with God can Be found Here

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