Summary: What does the burial mean for us?
How does the Creed go? “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, who was born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.” We have seen Jesus suffer; we have seen him die; now we see him buried. How comforting it is, finally, to see him in the hands of those who care for him. Hands no longer strike him, and no one now mocks him.
Just a short while earlier, perhaps a couple of days, he had blessed Mary’s extravagant display of homage and love – pouring costly perfume upon his head – by saying that she had prepared his body for burial. That had meant a lot to him. Now, his body is being buried, and one last act of homage will be made.
40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
Mark presents an element of Jesus’ ministry that heretofore we knew nothing about. Beyond the male disciples who followed him were a number of women. What marks their relationship to Jesus was their service: they cared for his needs. Luke tells us a little more in chapter 8 of his gospel:
Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means (8:1-3).
These women played a notable part in Jesus’ ministry. Judas may have been the treasurer for Jesus and the disciples, but the money he managed evidently came from these women for the most part. Perhaps some were from wealthy homes of husbands or fathers; perhaps some were industrious and earned money through making cloth or pottery. It is likely that they prepared many of Jesus’ meals, saw to it that he had good clothing. As is generally true of women, they would have been more alert than the men when he was tired or hungry. Most likely they were not always with Jesus as the Twelve were. More likely they followed him for a time, perhaps even in the sense of keeping shifts. It would not have been proper for a woman to leave her home and follow him for an extensive period of time. Even so, they likely were already creating somewhat of a scandal. It was not common for a Jewish rabbi to have a following of women, nor was it considered proper for women to be following a rabbi like a disciple. And, yet, as Mark notes, this women “followed” Jesus, the same term used for the disciples following him.
Mark names three of the women present for Jesus’ crucifixion and burial: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These women were apparently well-known in the early church, including Mary’s sons James and Joses or Joseph. Perhaps Salome is the mother of James and John, if we understand Matthew right (cf. 27:56). We know Mary Magdalene the best, or at least think we do. Most believe her to be a former prostitute, which is never said of her. Luke tells us she had been possessed by seven demons, but she is never reported as having been immoral. As in keeping with their devotion and practical concern for Jesus, the women continue to keep watch over Jesus during and following his crucifixion.
Let’s look at the burial. Mark notes that the crucifixion took place on Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). He brings this up to explain the necessity of removing Jesus’ body. It may never have entered our heads to be curious about that, but commonly bodies remained on the cross even after death to further disgrace the victims. Typically they were denied a proper burial, their bodies being dumped in a mass grave or even left for days hanging until the flesh gone. On the other hand, it was not unusual for families to be granted the bodies on request.
It was particularly important for Jesus’ body and those of the other two victims to be removed because of the Sabbath coming on. The Jewish day began at evening. What difference does the Sabbath make? It is the holy day and ought not be desecrated by these men’s cursed bodies. Listen to the law expressed in Deuteronomy 21:22-23: