123- Inside A New Sepulcher

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Pilate: That’s fine. Let those damned priests in! They can’t even let you sleep in peace!

A Priest: Governor Pilate, it’s almost dusk. Very soon, the afternoon star will announce the coming of the Great Sabbath…

Pilate: Ha! I don’t give a damn! Since dawn it hasn’t stopped raining. The sky is darker than a tomb… and you expect to see a star!

Another Priest: You’re right, Your Excellency. Just the same, we only have a few hours left before the Great Sabbath of the Passover…

Pilate: You’ve already said that. What do you want?

Priest: It’s about the three rebels who were crucified in Golgotha, Governor. They can’t stay there at the start of the feast… Our custom prohibits that… It would be a grave impurity.

Pilate: So, where do you want them to be…?

Priest: In the pit, Your Excellency. Under the ground. Better for them to die well and to be buried well.

Pilate: No one has ever told me they’re dead.

Priest: No, of course not, but why don’t you spare these cursed ones a long agony? After all, they have been purged of all their rebellion.

The three were still cringing from the pain of having been nailed on the cross. Jesus had already expired, at about three o’clock in the afternoon. Dimas and Gestas, the two zealot rebels, who were likewise crucified but less tortured than Jesus, lingered much longer. Beside them were their weeping mothers, awaiting their death… Beside the cross where Jesus’ lifeless but still warm body was hanging, the women and I were seated on the wet ground by the hillside, weeping and consoling each other….

Mary: John, my son, what will they do with Jesus now…?

John: I dunno, Mary… I dunno….

Magdalene: Look Mary, as a Magdalene, I’m telling you, they aren’t going to throw Jesus into the pit…. We’ll bury him… like a great man!

Mary: Young woman, you know we don’t even have a piece of land for a sepulcher… not even a few dinarii with which to buy a decent sheet… I don’t know what to do…

The hill of Golgotha was sown with blood-drenched poles of crosses. Around it were several deep pits excavated out of bare rocks, where the bodies of the victims were thrown away…

John: I dunno… Perhaps, if we could speak with this Nicodemus… he was a friend of Jesus… We saw him here in Jerusalem before the incident in the Temple… He is a very influential man… If this damned Pilate could give him the body to be buried in another place…

Magdalene: That’s it, John! I hope they don’t throw his body into the pit. Oh my God!

Peter, Andrew and some members of the group stayed close to the walls, daring not to step further to be near. After Jesus had died, only a few people stayed in the vicinity of Golgotha. Only a few hours were left before the Great Sabbath of the Passover, and a number of them, tired and weary after a long and gloomy rainy day, returned to the city to enjoy the warmth of their houses….

Tulius: Hey you, are they dead?!

Soldier: The Nazarene, yes, but not the other two. Look at them!

Through the gate of Ephraim appeared three soldiers with their clubs and lances. They climbed through the bare rocks with great strides…

Tulius: This must be done fast. Orders from the Governor. The feast of the Jews starts at sunset and these bodies can’t stay here.

Soldier: What do we do?

Tulius: Let’s break the legs of these two to finish them off.

Soldier: That’s a good idea, damn it! I’m sick and tired of so much rain and seeing so much weeping….! Then you’re paid for what is due you.

Tulius: Hey, women, get away from here, stay away from the crosses!

Women: Murderers, murderers!

Tulius: I told you to stay away from here… go away!

Two soldiers went near the crosses where Dimas and Gestas were grappling with death, and raising their thick clubs, they landed violent blows on their knees and legs, crushing the bones of the two…

A Woman: Oh my God, let this hell come to an end….

It did not take long for death to claim its toll. The bodies of the two young men, losing the support from their legs, collapsed, and very soon, they could no longer breathe. Their faces grimaced in terrible pain during that final moment….

Tulius: What about this other one? Are you sure he’s dead…?

Soldier: Yeah, after giving out a loud cry, just a while ago, he expired….

Tulius: That’s strange. So he died fast….

Soldier: He wouldn’t have lasted long…. He came here very badly beaten…

Mary: Please don’t touch him anymore… He’s really dead…

Tulius: Get away from here, woman… We’ve got to make sure he’s dead…. These are the orders…

Magdalene: Damn it, once and for all, leave him in peace!

Tulius: C’mon, hooker, I told you to stay away from here!

One of the soldiers gripped his lance and drew it close to Jesus’ dead body… In one certain stroke, he pierced his heart… The last drop of blood that remained of that crushed body came dripping through the heart…

Tulius: That’s it. Job concluded. My, what a day!

The soldier took his lance and with one corner of his old red cloak, removed the blood from its tip….

Soldier: Know what, Tulius? This man, I dunno… I have always said that it is only in death where one really gets to know the people… This one was a good man… I think he is innocent…

Tulius: Hey, something must’ve hit you…. Didn’t you say you got his clothes?… C’mon, let’s stop being sentimental… Bring them down fast and throw them into the pit. We must return to the quarters and report to the Governor. We’ll be seeing you there! They say good wine will be served at dinner tonight!

Soldier: C’mon, you… let’s get them all down!

Mary: John, son, run and look for this man, Nicodemus… Let’s see if he can do something…

Magdalene: I’m going with you, John!

John: No, Magdalene, you stay here! I’ll be back soon!

John: At last I’ve found you, Nicodemus…

Nicodemus: I know he’s dead, I know…. I saw him from the walls… Just a while ago, I’ve been pacing the floor like a fool… Damn it! Why weren’t we able to prevent it?

John: We need your help now, Nicodemus… It’s about the body of Jesus.

Nicodemus: Joseph, the friends of the Nazarene need us… You have an access to the Governor. He knows your wife very well, doesn’t he? Well, go and ask him to give you his body so he can be properly buried.

Joseph of Arimathea: Don’t worry, Nicodemus, I’ll go and see Pilate right away.

Pilate: So, the man has died?

Soldier: Yes, Governor. He is dead, just as I am standing right before you now. I pierced his heart with my lance.

Pilate: Very good. You can go…

Soldier: As you wish, Governor…

Pilate: And you, Joseph of Arimathea… since when have you become a follower of this crazy prophet…?

Joseph: The crazy ones are we who did not know how to defend him.

Pilate: What?… Are you having some remorse?… Well, take it easy, man, it’s nothing serious… What do you want? His body? Well, you can have it. If that will please you, then I give you my persmission.

Joseph: Give me a written authorization, Governor.

Nothing was talked about in the streets of Jerusalem except the incident in Golgotha. During those hours in the afternoon, the rain began to cease and the sun timidly warmed the terraces of the houses… The people, saddened by the event, and trying to bury everything in oblivion, started busying themselves preparing for that grand sabbatical respite….

Nicodemus: Of course, John!… You don’t have to worry about the money, nor the place. I have already spoken with my friend Joseph and he can bury Jesus in a new tomb which he has intended for his family. It’s just near the hill. Now, go back to the women, it’s not good to leave them alone… I’ll take care of whatever is needed. The stores will soon close and we have to hurry….

When I returned to the hill of Golgotha, they had already brought Jesus and one of the zealots down from the cross. They were bringing the other down… Jesus’ body, his arms stretched, was still in the form of a cross, and was resting on the ground, on Mary’s cloak. In a squatting position, beside him, his mother was looking at him in silence…. The women were standing, as they wept, biting their lips… Matthew and a few others had gone near, overcoming their fear. No one, in that completely disfigured and bloodstained face, recognized the much-loved features of our friend…

Peter: This has been a nightmare, John, a bad dream….

John: Come, Peter. Let’s talk to the soldiers. We have an authorization to bury him nearby.

While Peter and I were talking to the centurion, showing him our permit, Mary lay down the wounded head of Jesus on her lap and began to clean it with her rain-drenched scarf…

Mary: You look different, Jesus…. What have they done to you, my son… I told you, I was afraid… When you went to Capernaum, I told you: “Don’t get yourself into trouble, son”… You ignored me and you even had me trailing behind you…. You said: “Mother, you were always courageous and a fighter”… No, my son, that was nonsense… You were the brave one… Up to the end, Jesus, up to the end… Like your father… If Joseph had seen you…. I could almost hear him say: “Woman, let the boy be brave that he may stand up for the rest. This is what we have to teach him, this is what God wants from him.” You learned it my son, and well… “Now he has to go back to Nazareth, to till the land, to fetch water from the well, and harden his hands with work…” Then how many years later, “Neighbor Mary, neighbor Mary, here comes the Moreno to see you!”… You’ll return no more, son…. You’ll never go back. What will I do now that I’m alone… without Joseph and you?… Why didn’t you listen to me, son? Jerusalem is bad, don’t go to Jerusalem… I was so afraid then… you see… but I’m so proud of you, for all that you have done… All that you said always lingered in my heart… when you were away, in Capernaum… Yes, son, I also believe God gives his kingdom to the poor… to those who weep… I can’t, son, I can’t… my son…

John: Mary, let’s go, it’s getting late…

With no time to clean Jesus’ body, we anointed it hurriedly with a mixture of perfumes of myrrh and aloe, brought by Nicodemus in accordance with a custom in my country in burying the dead. Then we wrapped his body in a big fine sheet which Joseph had bought… Nobody uttered a word. We were in great haste and there was so much sadness in us… The rain had stopped and a fresh wind fluffed up our wet robes… Peter and I carried Jesus’ body. Very near Golgotha was a garden where Joseph of Arimathea had a new sepulcher. No one had been buried there yet. There inside the deep cave which was carved out of rock, we placed Jesus’ cadaver. We closed the entrance with a thick round stone, which was like a wheel.

John: Let’s go, Mary. The Sabbath has started…

For a few minutes, Mary rested her forehead on that humid slab… Then, she reached for my arm to keep her from slipping and started to walk. We returned to Jerusalem with her… The afternoon was coming to an end over the walled city and the Temple’s trumpets announced the start of rest of the Great Sabbath.

*Comments*
Jesus died on the Friday of the week of the Passover, which was a “day of preparation” for the Jews, since the following day, Sabbath (Saturday), no one was supposed to work. It was a day of rest as imposed by the Law. Since it was the great Sabbath of the Passover, that day was even more solemn than the rest of the Saturdays of the year. The great Sabbath began in the afternoon when the first stars started to appear in the sky. The corpses of the victims were “impure” and, according to the law should not mar, with their presence, the feast of that day. This explains the urgency with which the execution ended and Jesus’ interment had to be carried out.

Some crucified victims remained hanging on the cross for days, in endless agony. The Roman laws had provided for a faster death: by fracturing the bones of the legs through violent blows. The crushed or smashed condition of the entire body triggered the fatal asphyxia. This brutal method was applied to the revolutionary zealots. In the case of Jesus, there was no need to break any bone. He had died soon enough. The piercing by the soldier was a way to ascertain that the victim was really dead. It was like a “coup de grace” or a death blow.

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, of the ruling class, sympathized with Jesus, although clandestinely, and at the last moment, they dared to claim the body and have it buried with a certain dignity.

A classic image and very much loved by the pious people through the centuries, has been of Mary with her dead son in her arms. It is “La Pieta,” sung by musicians and poets, and immortalized in paintings and sculptures. Jesus’ death was the ultimate proof of Mary’s faith, who, like her own son, did not count on the resurrection. Mary, who had vaguely understood his son’s projects during the first moments, and who had tried to share with him his risks and hopes, must have felt on that day an infinite solitude, a profound feeling of failure, of sadness, of nothingness. She must have felt the pride too, for the courage shown by her son.

For the Israelites, a respectable burial was of great importance; it was a show of affection for the dead. That of Jesus, because of the circumstances, had to be done with the minimum of traditional requirements. The corpse was cleansed and anointed with oil. The myrrh was an aromatic resin of great value, and this was also used to anoint the bride and groom on their wedding day. The aloe was a fragrant essence from the sap of certain trees from India. It was used to perfume bedding, dresses and shrouds. A sheet was used as a shroud, or canvasses as sashes, although it is not known exactly how these were placed on the body of the deceased.

Since the ancient times, Israel buried her dead in natural caves to spare arable lands. Jesus was placed in a private tomb, bought by Joseph of Arimathea for his family and in which no one had been buried before. By making use of the natural excavation of the rock, the place was set up in the form of a room, with one or a few stone tables where the cadavers were put. Sometimes, niches were dug along the walls. In many cases – and one was that of Jesus’ sepulcher – this room or sepulchral chamber was preceded by an antesala or a small hall. The entrance to the tomb was sealed with a heavy, round stone that could turn like a wheel.

After two thousand years, the stone bench where Jesus’ cadaver was desposited is still preserved in the exact place where that garden near Golgotha was found. Inside the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, in the Arabic barrio of Jerusalem, is this place, so transcendental for the Christian faith. In spite of the abundant decoration accumulated through the centuries, the structure of that cave can still be perfectly distinguished: the anteroom, and a notice: “He is not here. He resurrected.”

Ever since Saint Helen, the mother of the Roman emperor, Constantine, discovered the exact location of the Calvary through excavations ordered by her within this area of Jerusalem, the so-called Holy Places (initially Golgotha and the burial place of Jesus) were converted to centers of pilgrimage for Christians from a number of neighboring countries. This happened about three hundred years after Jesus’ death. The Holy Places also became a reason for cruel wars. About a thousand and hundred years after Jesus’ death, these places were in the hands of the Muslims. Men from all over Christian Europe became involved in wars called the Crusades. Aside from the other political and economic motives, they tried to recover these Holy Places. The Crusades lasted for two hundred years including some intervals. They failed to redeem the Holy Sepulcher. What was worse was, that in the name of the cross of Jesus, all sorts of plundering and crime against the Arabs were committed, who also fought the Christians with great violence.

(Mt 27:51-61; Mk 15:38-47; Lk 23:47-56; Jn 19:31-42)

123- Inside A New Sepulcher

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