IT was nearly four o'clock when the messenger came from Pilate to tell the soldiers that he had given the body to Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph's servants came out of the near-by city gate, and went to work to put in order his new-made tomb. Nicodemus and Joseph were in the city buying articles for the entombment. Messengers were sent to tell the disciples of his death, and that the funeral would be held that evening before the setting of the sun, when the great Sabbath within the Passover would begin.
Near the cross of the dead Lord stood his mother with John, now her son ; her sister, her niece, and a few friends. As soon as the disciples and the friends who had gathered in Lazarus' house on Sion, near the Cenacle, heard of his death, they came down the long Sion Street, passed out the gate and came to Calvary.
After throwing the bodies of the two thieves with their crosses into the deep morass filled with water at the east of Calvary, the soldiers returned and loitered around the little hill, with its lone cross still bearing the body of the dead Lord. Soon two Jews of noble bearing approach, and tell Longinus and the soldiers they came to bury the deceased. The soldiers form in ranks and march back to their barracks, the people disperse and the friends were left alone with their dead. The Jewish law forbade executed criminals buried in their own tombs. It was nearly a mile around the city to Christ's family burial-place at the north of Gethsemane, the Sabbath would begin at sun down, and that was why Joseph offered his own new tomb.
Silence now reigned round Calvary. John was trying to comfort the most afflicted Mother. Weeping women were standing around the top of the hill. At the foot of the cross knelt Casius Longinus. A little band of Joseph's servants came out of the city gate, having materials for preparing the body for burial. They come down the hill into the valley in which Calvary was, wind around it into the little vale separating Calvary from Joseph's garden, follow a little path north, to where now stands the vestry of the great Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where was the garden gate, and come back about seventy-five feet to the door of the tomb.
Joseph and Nicodemus followed and entered the tomb to see how the workmen had prepared it. Finding things ready, these two return the same way, and meet their other servants coming from the city with ladders, rolls of cloth, hammers and other things required.
These two men, among the richest of the city, had formed a partnership in building houses, were leaders of the congregation worshiping in the Cenacle synagogue, and had many men in their employ, and used ladders in putting up buildings. These ladders had cleats nailed to serve as rungs, each ladder having a hook at the top. They had bought spices, Balsamodendron, myrrh, resin of aquilaria, agallochum, vases of perfume in leathern bottles, sponges, bundles of fine linen and a litter to form a bier.
In the bazaars of the Holy City these things were sold as well as finest byssus, mouseline of woven linen, made in Egypt for wrapping round the dead. You can see them still around the bodies of ancient kings and nobles of the Nile valley in the great Museum of Cairo. The agallochum with perfumes and spices were melted, so they penetrated the grave-clothes. This was the way the wealthy Jew was prepared for the grave, the custom their fathers brought from Egypt, and this was the manner these two wealthy men laid Jesus' body to rest in Joseph's tomb.
Joseph and Nicodemus according to the custom of the Jews, had clothed themselves in mourning garments, and they wore black sleeves, and long cassocks falling down to their feet, bound around the waist with wide sashes. Gray cloaks drooped from their shoulders and white turbans covered their heads. Some of the women were also in mourning, and thus the little band went up the slope of Calvary.
When they came to the western opening in the little wall around the top, they found a new guard of soldiers surrounding the hill. They were the guard the Jews had asked Pilate to send to guard the tomb, lest the disciples might come and steal away the body.
Joseph showed them the order Pilate had given him, and they allowed them to enter within the guarded circle around the cross. To the Virgin and John they told all they had done to give the dead Christ a respectable funeral.
Pilate had placed Abenadar as captain over the guard. After his conversion he was called Emilianus. Joseph went up and told him that they wanted to take down the body, and he let the women with John and the servants into the inclosure. There the women began to prepare the linens and the spices. Casius no\v came for ward and told Emilianus how his eyes had been cured. The soldiers looked on with indifference or curiosity. The two officers came forward to help, the women wept, the Mother of the Lord stood with Mary Magdalen on one side, and John on the other; she bore her deep grief in silence. No one but the widowed mother knows what it is to lose her only son. But no one there knew the Son so well as his Mother, for no one had ever approached so near to God as she, who became the Mother of the Divinity, for the Person born of her was the Son of God, God of God, Light of Light, the Word made flesh, whose humanity had died to save his race he assumed in her womb.
Joseph and Nicodemus, aided by the officers, placed the two ladders behind up to the arms of the cross and mounted them. With a long narrow sheet they tied the body to the arms of the cross, winding the cloths below the knees and around the chest. They drove the nails back from behind with a hammer and then they pushed them with wooden pins out of the wood ; the two hands of the Crucified fell, and the body was supported by the cloths. While Joseph and Nicodemus are doing this, Abenadar drives out the nails from the feet, Longinus gathers up the nails and lays them at the feet of the Maiden Mother, who had fallen on the ground near the hole where Destnas had died.
Then both men on the ladders, aided by the two Roman officers, untied the fastenings of the arms of the cross and holding the cloths they gently let the sacred body descend into the hands of the two officers standing on stools holding the limbs below. The two Jews above, taking every precaution, let the linens slip gently through their hands, till the body of the dead Lord was laid on the ground. They, did it all as quietly and as gently, as they would have done if he had been alive, and they feared to hurt him. All the time their eyes were fixed on the torn lacerated form of the dead. Then the two came down from the ladders, and the four men wrapped the body with linen from the knees to the waist and gently laid it in his Mother's arms.