The Burial of Jesus – Day of Abasement
“My dove in the clefts of a rock, in the hollow places of the wall, show me thy face, let thy voice sound in my ears; for thy voice is sweet and thy face comely” [Cant. 2:14].
After the holy women kneeling around the Mother of sorrows had adored for some time the body of Jesus, they begin the preparations for His burial. Joseph of Arimathea has a new tomb hewn in a rock quite near to Calvary, and here he has made ready a place for his God. They wrap the body in fine linen and anoint it with the choicest spices. It is now quite dark, and the rabble, tired and alarmed, have gone home, and there is no fear of intrusion. The funeral procession starts from the mount. Joseph and the disciples bear the holy body in their arms; the beloved St. John acts his part of son, and supports the Virgin, while the holy women follow mournfully behind. The childless mother’s thoughts are full of bitter woe. As she walks behind the dead body of her Son, memory peoples her mind with a thousand sad recollections. She goes down the ascent by which in the morning she came up following the track of the precious blood. All the events of that long day one by one return to her. It seemed as if she had lived a century in that one day, so fast had come the acceleration of her woe. Now it was over and all was still as death. They reach the sepulcher and pause a moment before its open door. Then gently they lay Jesus to His rest upon that bed of stone. They kneel around the tomb while Mary goes in to take a last look of her Child. They have hidden her dove in the clefts of the rock, but no voice sounds in her ears, and the face is cold in death. Yet it is the Resurrection and the Life whom they leave shut up in the hollow place of the wall. It is the unchangeable nature of God which lies imprisoned in that sepulcher. They roll the stone to the door and prepare to take their departure. A band of Roman soldiers come to take their place, not indeed to adore the Lord of life, but to guard His tomb. The holy Mother goes to her house supported by St. John, for home now on earth she had none. Magdalen and the holy women retire to a little distance, and sit down to watch the sepulcher. Most of us have in some way known affliction, and can tell by experience of the bitterness of bereavement, and how it casts a shadow over all earthly things. The very sun in heaven loses its brightness and the elasticity of hope seems to desert us. The long nights seem to have no morning, and the weary days no evening. Far worse than all this was Mary’s affliction. She had lost her life and light, her Child and her God, and she had lost Him by the most cruel and ignominious of deaths. Now He was in the grave, in the likeness of corruption, and she was on earth alone. In this almost endless night of sorrow everything comes back to her. She recalls the transports of Bethlehem when first in the manger she kissed His lips a thousand times and called Him her own. She remembers the long journey into Egypt, and how its hardships were upon His tender frame. She brought before her mind all the endearments of the holy house at Nazareth, and the numberless winning ways of His childhood. She tries to picture His looks of affection by which so often He had poured into her soul new grace and new bliss. And of late she had thrown on Him the whole weight of her heart, and had kept neither care nor anxiety for the future. Then every step of the Passion comes before her again. She sees Him bleeding under the scourge, fainting under the cross, and looking love to her even in the agonies of death. And in the vigils of that night she is ever before the sepulcher, now lying down by His side on His stony bed, now trying in vain to roll away the rock from the entrance, or frightened away by the tramp of the Roman soldier. Poor Mother, there is no one who can sympathize with her woe, and no one but God could read the utter desolation of her heart. That tomb is her burial place also, and in it she is shut up, and by it she is cut off from all the things of earth. She shall indeed rise with her Son to new life and glory, but these are the days of her burial. He who would rise with Christ must first fie with Him and be buried with Him. The Blessed Virgin was the first to follow the example of her Son, for from Him she was never separated. As she revealed to St. Bridget, the spear that pierced His heart pierced hers also, the tomb that enclosed His body was also her resting-place. There was no need that she should die to the things of sense; they had never found entrance in her heart. There was no need that she should be buried to the world, for she had never known the world or felt even one of its attractions. There was no purgative life for her. Yet in the high and majestic union of her soul with God there were continually new heights and ever deeper depths. And her share in the cross and Passion was one of the fruits of this union. The sinner, however, as he contemplates Mary’s grief, and beholds his Lord sleeping in the embrace of death, may find many lessons leading him to compunction and self-abasement. That cold tomb encloses the hearts both of Jesus and Mary. Let the sinner kneel before it, and learn how to die and how to await resurrection.
For soon we must say to corruption, thou art my mother, and to the worm, thou art my sister, and soon we must sleep in the narrow grave, not in the likeness, but in the reality of corruption. Shall our long sleep be like the sleep of Jesus? Shall our tomb be like His? If such shall be our peaceful rest, then must we die with Christ to all things sensible, even to the desires of our own hearts. Then in humility and self-abnegation must we cut every chain that binds us to the world, and bid the stony door of His sepulcher shut out all else but Him and our own soul. Our world of faith shall be there where He is, and living on earth, we shall be indeed strangers and pilgrims, citizens of a better country. O blessed burial, hope of the sinner, and earnest of everlasting union with God! O blessed sepulcher, where no deceitful shadow of sense, no empty vision of the world can disturb the peaceful rest of the soul! Who would not seek thy hallowed gloom, and in it find alone the only good and the only true? But if we aspire to such likeness to Jesus and His Mother, we shall need great courage and great fidelity to grace. There is scarcely any human heart in which in some way the world does not reign. Worldliness is the great sin of our day, and like a devouring worm it eats at the root of every fair tree in the garden of God. We are ever striving to accomplish by human means what the divine providence would bring to pass in His own way. We ever turn out of the path of our perfection to try some easier way which presents some apparent gain; and in the perplexities of life, or in the blessed visitations of divine love, we turn to the creature and turn away from the Creator. The mystical death is not to be found except in the steep and narrow way, and the sepulcher of Jesus will not receive us till the world and its maxims, and its sensuality are utterly banished from our hearts. For in that narrow tomb no earthly thought can enter, and no heart can sleep there whose every pulsation is not for Jesus and Mary. Let us abase ourselves for our past neglect! Have we ever counted the cost, when for any earthly good we are sacrificing the favor of God, or throwing away even one grace which would lead us heavenward? Why have things sensible the power to dim the eye of faith, or to attract the soul that God would prepare for His own endless love and ravishing beauty? “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” The cross of Christ is the measure of the world. The voiceless sepulcher is the mighty preacher of the nothingness of human promises. Why not seek that safe shelter from every storm and tempest, that shield from the defiling touch of everything earthly? The Mother of sorrows will be our teacher, and from her example we shall learn the way of self-abasement. She will be our guide through whatever paths God may lead us, and with her we cannot stray. And we shall make progress in our sanctification only in proportion as we walk in her footsteps, and conform our lives to the model she has given us. It will be a consolation to her afflicted heart to guide us to a perfect union with her Son, for Whom she lived and suffered.