Thursday, 15 Nisan
Jesus died on the Day of Preparation, Wednesday, a day that the Jews prepared for Passover, which was a special "Shabbat."
The next day, commencing at the twelfth hour, was Thursday, 15 Nisan.
Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during Passover, they asked Pilate to have the legs of all three criminals broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers, therefore, came and with a large, iron club called a crurifragium shattered the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus and then those of the other. The intense, brain dissolving pain this caused quickly disposed of their awkward means of breathing by pushing up on their legs; the two men expired in minutes. But when they came to Jesus, they found him already dead.
"This one's already gone," spoke one of the men.
"Yeah, maybe," said another, "but just to make certain . . ." he pointed his spear toward the ribs and thrust. There was no spurting of body fluid, for the heart had stopped beating. Still, the pressure within the body had not yet drained and blood spilled down his side. To the surprise of these military men, it was followed by and mixed with a clear liquid: A red stream within a clear stream. It wasn't an enormous amount, but it was enough. This was not how it should be. Jesus should have been alive to endure another several days of suffering. Crucifixion was not a quick, merciful death. The soldiers of Rome were shaken.
The scriptures had predicted this. "Not one of his bones will be broken," and as another Scripture says, "They will look on the one they have pierced." Human eyes had witnessed this event, as it was foretold by David and the prophets, detail by magnificent detail.
Pilate sat poring over administrative documents. They had been sent from Rome by the Senate, something to do with how Judea was divided. There were instructions . . . his mind wandered, confused and opaque. The events of the day wore on his soul, boring in, refusing to go away. He could not concentrate. He regretted allowing the Jews to crucify the prophet. Perhaps Claudia's silly dreams had some merit. It was useless to wail about it now. He would be dead by now. Yes. He would be dead. He did not notice the servant who had appeared at the table. When he did, he was awakened out of his stupor.
"Eminent Procurator, there is a wealthy Jew, sir, a member of the Sanhedrin, I think, to see you."
"Another Jew?" said Pilate wearily.
"Yes, lord Procurator, he comes with a request."
"Oh," said Pilate diminutively. Emotionally exhausted, the airs of rank had evaporated. His brain, still filled with cobweb, allowed him to speak with resignation, "Very well, send him in."
The Jew was dressed in expensive robes. There were jeweled rings on his fingers. His demeanor was reserved, deferential, utterly lacking in the pretense that Pilate so despised.
"My name is Joseph, eminent Governor. Joseph of the city of Arimathea."
Pilate did not even look at him. "Yes," he sighed, "Joseph of Arimathea, what do you want of me?"
"I wish to claim the body of Jesus of Nazareth. I wish your permission to remove it from the cross and inter it in my own personal tomb."
"You what?" said Pilate, his senses alerted. "You are among those demanded the crucifixion of this innocent man and now you wish to run off with his body? In the name of all the gods, man, why would you do such a thing? Isn't his execution enough for you bloodthirsty swine?!"
"I do not wish to run off with it, Governor. I wish to dress it with appropriate spices and balm. I wish to bury it in my own personal sepulchre. I will roll a stone over the entrance and seal it with my own personal seal," spoke Joseph calmly. It was clear that he was not intimidated by Pilate. Nor was he arrogant. "And I am not one who screamed for his death, nor did I make a show of washing my hands for the responsibility of it." He said this not in rancor, but Pilate understood the implications. "I wish you no ill, my Governor. I wish only his poor body, to give it a decent burial."
Pilate had stood in rising annoyance. Now he again took his seat, bewildered. He started to speak but then stopped. He closed his mouth, turned his face away from Joseph of Arimathea to disguise the hot tears welling in his eyes, composed himself and said, "Then take the body of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea. Take it and dress it with myrrh and aloe, and for a shroud . . . take this." He removed from his shoulders the white, Roman toga which he wore, leaving himself only with his undergarment. "If, indeed, he has returned to his kingdom, perhaps this garment will keep him warm. And by it, remember the evil that I have done."
Joseph, surprised, was helpless to refuse. Nor did he wish to refuse. In this simple way, this hardened man was reaching for the one Man who could save him from himself. He took it gladly. "He shall wear it this night," spoke this wealthy Jew from the city of Arimathea. He turned and left the Roman to his own private ache.
Joseph hurried into the twilight of the evening. Quickly, he strode down the streets of Jerusalem clinging to Pilate's tunic, up a dark alley, through an intersection and down another street, turning right and then left until he reached a familiar avenue. At the third door he stopped and knocked urgently. The passing of a moment seemed to Joseph the passing of an eternity. Just as he began to knock again, the door opened. A woman past her time of bearing children stood before him questioning. "I must speak to Nicodemus," said the man, "please, quickly!" She led him through a room and then another to where the "teacher of Israel" sat absorbed in the pages of the Torah, one of several copies guarded by the Sanhedrin.
"Who is it, Minah?" he inquired, so absorbed was he that he did not realize that Joseph was standing near him.
"It is Joseph, my husband. It seems the least you could do is acknowledge his presence. He is agitated, I think."
Nicodemus looked up at last to see his friend standing with an excited, apprehensive look on his face.
"I have seen the Governor, Nicodemus. He is allowing me to claim the body of our Lord. See, he gave me his tunic in which to clothe the body in its death."
"He did what?" responded his startled friend.
"He is allowing . . ."
"I heard! But Pilate gave you his tunic?" Nicodemus could not believe what his ears had heard. "Then we must hurry, before he changes his mind, or before our Sanhedrin colleagues hear about this."
"We will need assistance. Bring two of your servant men. I will send for two of mine as well . . ."
Nicodemus turned to his wife who was still in the room and had overheard all that transpired. "Minah, inform his mother, Mary, and her friends. I think you will find her where John is staying, here in the city. And hurry; they will want to be present as we do this."
Nicodemus instructed his servants to bring the customary mixture of myrrh and aloe, about seventy-two pounds of it, to prepare the body for burial. Slipping a rod between the handles of the jar containing the mixture, the servants each took an end, and being strong men, they were able to carry it without difficulty. Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus and their entourage of servants made their way out of the city and out to Golgotha, carrying the spices intended for use in burial. When they reached the crosses, they had to present their credentials from the Procurator before the soldiers would let them near the executed prisoners.
They went to work extracting the wooden stanchion from the earth and laying the cruel instrument of crucifixion flat so they could remove the body. There was no breath; there was no movement except where gravity chose to jerk its weight against the nails in hands and feet. It was a corpse, the mangled, agonized, twisted remains of the man who had claimed to be the Son of God. To see him dead, to see him in this way, churned the waves of nausea, disillusionment and bitterness in those who trusted in him.
Removing the nails required banging them from side to side to loosen their grip in the wood. Once loosened, the servants gripped them with a pair of tongs and pulled. At length they had extracted these ugly things from his hands, wrists and feet. Lifting the body of Jesus from the cross to a hastily assembled bier, they removed the thorns, trying unsuccessfully to avoid being soiled by the blood. Soiled by the blood of Jesus? The servants wiped the sticky liquid from their hands onto their clothing. Once the body was ready for transport, they made their way to Joseph's garden and to the new tomb.
Lying upon the earth, they left behind a wooden cross, scarred with nail holes and soaked in blood, an ugly specter of execution and death. Yet this structure, this form, would become a sacred image, stamping its visage on the collective human conscience like no other. When men and women beheld this holy shape, they would instantly know that the world had been changed because of an obscure, peasant Carpenter. They would know that, with the world, their own heart could be changed and delivered into life eternal. Thus an instrument of death became a symbol of life--eternal life.
They were soon joined by Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus, who observed where these two members of the Jewish Sanhedrin had placed the body of Jesus. Then they went home and prepared additional spices and perfumes to bring later.
The next day Asher, the chief priests and the Pharisees went, as a delegation, to Pilate. "Sir," they said, "we remember that while he was still alive this deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.'" Their response to the work of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea was mixed. Some saw it as an act of solidarity with the priests' cause. Some saw it as the Jewish thing to do since bodies should not be left hanging on a cross through the Sabbath, yet others were suspicious of the two men, concluding rightly that they were sympathizers to the cause of Jesus. So they said to Pilate, "Give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. Hence, his last deception will be worse than the first."
Pilate stared at these religious sycophants, despising them and, his mind twisted in a perverted way, fearing them as well. He let them await his answer for several moments. Then he said, "Very well. Make the tomb as secure as you know how." So they went and put the Roman seal on the stone and gave orders from Pilate to the centurion, who posted a guard.