“And it was the day of preparation and the Sabbath was starting.”
“Thus, because it was the preparation of the Jews, and since the tomb was near, they laid out Jesus.”
As we have discussed, time is short and the Sabbath was about to be at hand when no work could be done according to Jewish law. This dates the event as taking place on Friday evening just before Sundown. Some authors suggest a difficulty here due to the fact that the reference to the day of preparation could also be a reference to the Passover, but the emphasis of the accounts is on the coming Sabbath day and thus objections can be easily dismissed when the four Gospels are harmonized. Still others suggest a difficulty in Luke’s record because of his use of ἐπιφώσκω (epiphosko), which is literally a reference to dawn — literally reading, “the Sabbath was dawning.” Yet, it is also a figure of speech that refers to the beginning of an event, and surely we can forgive the evangelist for waxing eloquent as he writes his account.
What is most significant is the importance that is placed on the idea that not only did Jesus obey the Law of God in his life, but his followers ensured he followed it in his death — even if it was just with respect to his corpse. To those of us in the west, this is perhaps a difficult notion to understand, but in the Hebrew culture, great emphasis was placed on purity laws and the keeping of the body pure even as it is laid in the tomb. It is a reminder to us that even here the words of Psalm 16:10 are being fulfilled by the friends and followers of Jesus.
It would arguably serve us well to do a better job at being intentional in our obedience to God. True, the Jewish ritual no longer binds us as it is fulfilled by Christ, but there are many commands that our Lord has given us that we are called to obey if we genuinely love him. We are to forgive one another, love one another, speak truth to one another, gather with the saints for worship, remember as we partake of the Lord’s Table and so forth. We are to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God, watching the words of our lips that our witness might be true and honorable. We can go on and on with instructions such as these that our Lord has given us and that will never pass away — not so long as the heaven and earth remain. And, we can learn, too, from the respect and reverence given to the bodies of those who depart from our presence. These bodies, too, are part of the person and deserve to be treated with dignity, not casually discarded like dust to the wind. Preparation and the committal of the body to the ground as a whole is not merely a tradition, it is a reminder of the hope of the resurrection. Let us not lose sight of these things and learn from the example of those who handled our Lord’s body so many years ago.