The burial of Jesus

The shades of evening fall fast and silently round that Mother, sitting at the foot of the Cross with the covered Head of her dead Son upon her lap. The very earth is weary with the weight of that eventful day. It was a strange station for a Mother to choose for her repose, just at the foot of the cruel tree on which her Son had died, and which was yet bedewed with His Precious Blood. When Mary sat on that hilltop, and enthroned the Dead Christ upon her knee, she left an inexhaustible legacy of blessings behind her to all generations, with the condition of residence on the top of Calvary attached to their enjoyment.

There was Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, John and Magdalen, the devout women who had come up to the Cross, some of the trusted servants of Joseph and Nicodemus, and to these was now added the converted centurion, who at the moment of our Lord's death had confessed that He was the Son of God. Perhaps also some of the apostles and other disciples may by this time, as some of the Saints have conjectured, have been gathered to the Cross.

Slowly they went, and in silence as soft as the foot of midnight itself. Look now at Mary, as she closes the funeral procession. That woman is a creature of the Most High more exalted than any Angel in Heaven. But now the garden-tomb is reached, the new tomb of the second Adam. It was hewn in the solid rock, and was new. Joseph had meant it for himself. But no man had ever lain there yet. All things were fitting, and full of all manner of meanings and proprieties. Mary enters the tomb with Joseph. It was his help she chose. Her hands arranged everything. How gently they lowered His Head into the tomb! As to His arms, perhaps they now allowed her to close them to the Body; or perhaps, if there was room, He rested even in the grave with that wide crucified embrace, ready to receive a whole world of sinners. We are not told. She adjusts and composes the winding-sheet, and puts the feet together, which had been so painfully together those three hours upon the Cross. The instruments of the Passion too she takes, and kisses them, and deposits them in the tomb. There is no unnecessary delay over each action, such as marks the weakness of common grief. All was done in order, assiduity, and silence. Then came perhaps the last look. Perhaps she lifted up the cloth to see that the moving of the Body had not discomposed the venerable features. How pale it must have looked by the wan torch light inside that rocky tomb! The eyes were closed whose single look had converted Peter. The lips were shut that but a while ago uttered those seven marvelous words upon the Cross, the sound of which had not yet died out of her listening ears. Slowly the cloth was replaced; and on her knees she made her last act of adoration of that lifeless Body. Never surely had any anguish so awful, any woe so utterly superhuman, desolated the soul of living creature.

All who were present at the burial genuflected before the Body, and adored profoundly, and then turned away, as though they were tearing themselves from a strong attraction, and departed in silence. Joseph, as St. Matthew tells us, rolled a great stone to the door of the monument, and then went his way also. Mary, with john and Magdalen, return slowly over the summit of Calvary. She will need repose after the terrific agony of that moment in the tomb. But repose is far away from that brokenhearted Mother yet. Her soul, shattered by that last assault of suffering, has yet to pass through a fearful ordeal before she reaches the house of John in Jerusalem. After that, there is to be no respite to the anguish of her desolation for three days, three scriptural days, from this Friday evening till the dawn of Sunday's sun, the aurora of the Resurrection.

The Cross lies in their path across Calvary. The fatal tree is still discernible in the darkness, for the light of the low moon creeps up over the earth and lights objects from below. But its dimensions look larger and more swollen than before. Mary rests awhile, and falls down upon her knees to adore the blood-stained Cross. She kisses the wood, partly as if it were in sign of reconciliation with it after its cruel yet blessed office of the day, and partly as if it were the most precious object she could touch now that the Body, which had hung on it, was laid in the tomb, and partly also in sign of love and worship of the Precious Blood. When she rose up, her lips were stained with it. Dreadful seal of love which the Son has printed on His Mother's mouth and cheek, from those lips of His which were "as lilies dropping choice myrrh!" O Mother! "Thy cheeks are as the bark of a pomegranate, besides what is hidden within thee!" O Blood-stained mouth, giving voice to that heavenly soul, how much has passed since thou didst sing that wonderful Magnificat! Thy silence now is as eloquent before God as thy song was then!

In order to understand the agony which our Blessed Mother had now to suffer, we must take several circumstances into consideration. There was too much of the satiety of bitterness in her soul to allow her to feel, sensibly the pain of hunger. She had not done so during the Three Days' Loss. But her long fast told grievously upon her strength. No food had crossed her lips since the evening before. No sleep had visited her eyelids on the Thursday night, and there was little hope of her sleeping now while Jesus lay in the tomb. Moreover, the twenty-four hours had been filled with the most astonishing events, gigantic mysteries following each other in almost indistinguishably rapid succession. Her soul had been on the rack of extremest torture the whole while. Her mind, serene and capacious as it was, had been stretched and fatigued incessantly by the very comprehension of what was going on around her. Her nature had been shaken to its centre by terror. She was worn out by the bodily fatigue of standing so many hours. The very intensity of her sustained adoration had preyed upon the supplies of her life. That indescribable moment in the tomb had been eclipse and earthquake in her soul both at once. Now, fasting, thirsty, foot- sore, her eyes tingling with sleeplessness, her limbs aching with fatigue, her mind burning with terrible memories and still more terrible understandings, her heart crushed and desolate within her, a very wreck which the tempests of supernatural woe have been unable to submerge, she enters at the gate of Jerusalem, on another course of the most dire and heart-rending affliction.

She is retracing the morning's pilgrimage, and making the stations of the Cross from last to first, instead of from first to last. Slowly she traversed the intolerable scenes of the morning. Not a gesture had escaped from her retentive memory that evening, just as none had escaped the vigilant anxiety of her eye before. She heard His low soft sighs upon the night wind. His beautiful disfigured face looked at her through the darkness. Here He fell, and her feet burned and trembled as she stood upon the spot. She knew that she was treading on the pavement stained with His Blood, though the night veiled the ruddy traces from her eyes. There the Cyrenian had taken His Cross. There He had spoken His gentle words, yet words of saddest doom, to the daughters of Jerusalem, whose women's hearts had melted in them at the cruelty of which He was the victim. There He had impressed His adorable lineaments on the cloth which Veronica had brought Him. There was the corner of the street where Mary herself had met Him. It seems ages ago. Those eyes were on her still. That look was in her soul, burning with a fire of love whose heat was torture to the weakness of mortality. There was the guard-room where He was crowned, and there the pillar of the scourging. She knew what lay around the foot of it; from her mind's eye, at least, the darkness could not veil it. There were the steps of Pilate's judgment hall, where He had been shown with derisive pity to the raging people. The silent air seemed still to ring with their cries of Barabbas. Verily His Blood was on them and on their children now. It was an awful pilgrimage, and her heart bled within her as she made it. It is always a great trial to love to revisit scenes of deep sorrow. Even when time has closed the wound, it is a bitter pain to bear, bitter although our love may drive us to seek it of ourselves. Eyes weep then that have not wept for years. Strong men sob as if they were weak women, and are rightly not ashamed of it. Hearts are broken afresh which patient, dutiful endurance had pieced together as well as might be. Fountains of bitterness from underneath, long closed and almost unsuspected now, break up, and flow, and inundate the soul with gall. All this, too, takes place when use has blunted the edge of grief, so that it cannot cut as deeply or as fierily as it did before. But what is this compared with Mary's backward way of the Cross, the second she had made that day? The peculiar horror of the mysteries, the incomparable sharpness of the anguish, the crushed and broken heart of the sufferer, her intense bodily fatigue and fainting lassitude, and the rawness of the recent Passion, bear her sorrow far beyond the limits of all comparison. In such unutterable woeful plight it was that the streets of Jerusalem beheld their unknown queen that night wending her weary way to the house of John. This was the home she had received in exchange for the House of Nazareth. John is her son now instead of Jesus. He is the man and she the woman. But he must lean on her, not she on him. He who last night pillowed his tired head on the Sacred Heart of Jesus must now, in spirit at least, find his repose upon the Immaculate Heart of the sorrowing Mother.

The door closed upon her. She was now at home. Home! In that home, with her spirit at Gethsemane, she had spent the three hours of the agony; and the look of the room brought it all back to her, living, and real, and unbearable. From that room she had gone forth with John and Magdalen to try to gain admittance to the house of the high priest. To that room she had returned when Jesus was thrown into the dungeon for the night. In that room she had spent such a vigil as no other mother could have spent without forfeiting either her reason or her life. And now she had come back to it again the most bereaved, the most desolate among all the countless creatures of our heavenly Father, and all this because she was nearest to Him, and His best-beloved. There, with the silent companionship of John and Magdalen deepening the utter solitude, she abode for more than four-and-twenty hours.

The Three Days' Loss, that mystery which shines apart, finds something like its fellow. The essence of the sorrow is the same in both cases. It is the loss of Jesus. The time which the loss endures is mysteriously the same. There is the same absence of human agency and secondary causes. The occupations of the absent Jesus are not alike in both cases. In the first He was illuminating the doctors of His nation. In the second He was giving beatific light in the limbus of the Fathers, the older doctors of His people. There was a Joseph to sorrow with Mary at the tomb, as there had been a Joseph to sorrow with her in the temple; and both Josephs were the choice of God Himself. The Inature of the suffering was the same in both cases, because it came from a Divine abandonment. Desolation was equally the form of sorrow then and now. She had lost Him both times in the same place, just outside the gates of Jerusalem. There can be little doubt that the Three Days' Loss was a prophetical foreshadowing of the present separation. But there was one notable exception to all these similitudes. The darkness in the seventh dolor arose from the impossibility of consolation. The darkness in the third was a mysterious ordeal of supernatural ignorance. Here she knew everything. She had watched the Passion to its close with heroic fidelity. She had embalmed Him herself. She had helped to lay Him in the tomb. She knew where He was and how He had been lost, and she knew of the Resurrection that was to come on Easter morning.

Taken from book by Father William Faber “At the foot of the Cross”.

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