“O Death, I will be your death”

The lifeless body of Jesus is pretty incomprehensible. Any lifeless body is incomprehensible, but Jesus’ is beyond the furthest reaches of our mind’s ability to understand.

I’ve been thinking of the women who observed his burial. Maybe they watched from a distance as Joseph of Arimathea, having been given permission to receive the body, took it and wrapped it in a clean, linen shroud.

Nicodemus, another wealthy but secret disciple of Jesus, brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, “about a hundred pounds’ weight” (Jn 19:39). This is an extraordinary amount, quantities befitting a royal burial.

Franz Stuck, 1891, WikiCommons

Would this have been a comfort to the women who watched? They knew Jesus. The numberless hours they’d spent with him; how well they knew his voice, his love, his authority, his affection, his mysterious otherness. What awe and fear they had experienced as they had realised his power: over nature, sin, demons, sickness… over death.

And yet, here he is… before their eyes… dead. Jesus is dead. There is no life in his body.

Seeing the balm brought by Nicodemus is perhaps a glimmer of a sign of his glory, even in his death. He is truly a King. All they knew of Jesus had not been mistaken, a cruel dream.

After they observed the burial, grief-stricken, numb, “they returned and prepared spices and ointments” (Lk 23:56). The definitive burial would take place after the Sabbath. I can imagine them forcing themselves through these practical preparations, the only way not to collapse under the weight of his death.

Anointing is an attempt to hold death at bay, to preserve the corpse from decomposition. And yet it is a vain effort: anointing can only maintain the dead person in death; it cannot restore him to life. (Pope Benedict XVI: Jesus of Nazareth – Holy Week)

Death’s cruelty is to rub our face in our own powerlessness. What great despair when we face the reality that we cannot reverse death; and the One we thought could do this… he is dead.

But… only a little time longer, and dawn will come, grief will be gone. What they attempt to do – preserve Jesus’ body – will be done definitively. Only God can do this! Jesus cannot be captive to death… he is alive!

Even now we can say, O Death, where is your victory?!

 

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