“When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be handed over. Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it [in] clean linen and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock. Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed.” (Matt 27: 57-60)
“Jesus’ Body is placed in the tomb.” So reads the customary text of the Fourteenth Station, which recalls the burial of Our Lord’s Sacred Body.
Our Blessed Savior, Son of God, King of the Universe, was born in a “borrowed” cave, had nowhere to “lay His Head” (Luke 9:58; Matt. 8:20) during His Public Life, and was buried in a “borrowed” tomb carved out of rock.
From the Gospel of St. Matthew quoted above, as well as from the three other Gospel accounts, we know that the person who “loaned” Jesus a burial place was Joseph of Arimathea, a “rich man” (Matt. 27:57), as well as “a virtuous and righteous man” (Luke 23:50). Although he was a “distinguished member” of the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43), he had not consented to the Savior’s condemnation (Cf. Luke 23:51).
Since Jesus used that borrowed tomb for only three days, I know that “loaned” is the correct word to use. Yet, I can’t help wondering, given the Apostles’ and disciples’ reactions to Jesus’ Death and Resurrection—even though He had foretold both--whether Joseph, who was “a secret disciple of Jesus” (Cf. John 19:38 ) and who was “awaiting the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43), expected to get his tomb back--empty.
In laying Jesus’ Body in his own new tomb, Joseph of Arimathea models for us performing one of the corporal works of mercy: burying the dead. Aligned with that corporal work of mercy is the spiritual work of mercy: giving comfort to the grieving.
Surely, Our Blessed Mother was greatly comforted when Joseph of Arimathea “courageously went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (Mark 15:43). Gaining custody of Our Lord’s Sacred Body allowed Joseph to surrender His Body to His Mother’s tender care (Thirteenth Station), and to provide a reverent burial site for His Body (Fourteenth Station)—even though Our Blessed Mother, I am sure, had every confidence that the site was only temporary. As His most faithful disciple, surely Mary believed without a doubt her Son’s Word that in three days He would rise from the dead.
As I think about the singular privilege that was Joseph of Arimathea’s: to have performed a corporal work of mercy for the Lord Jesus Himself, I think about a surprising real-life example I heard. With great charity, a similar act of mercy was done to the Lord in the person of one of His “least brothers.”
When her granddaughter’s father-in-law died unexpectedly, and the man’s family was unable to “scrape together” the money needed to provide a burial site for him, the grandmother generously agreed to the request that her deceased husband’s plot be opened and the man’s body be buried “temporarily” in what would become, someday, her spot.
In graciously agreeing to the request, the grandmother good naturedly said that she was sure her husband—known for his lively sense of humor--would welcome the company. Then, seriously, in keeping with her husband’s deep faith, she said that, in fact, she was certain her husband would want to help the man—even though he had never met him during his Earthly life; that he would consider it his Christian duty to share his burial space with someone whose body had nowhere else to be buried.
(As I understand, the temporary burial has extended to a few years, with no rancor or regret on the part of the grandmother, who trusts that God will provide for her when her time comes to be buried.)
Without minimizing the personal sacrifices made by Joseph of Arimathea or the loving grandmother, whose story was just shared, someday, we know, when Our Blessed Savior, Son of God, King of the Universe, returns in Glory, burial sites will be rendered unnecessary, for He will defeat death forever.
Even more, when Jesus returns, the bodies that have been buried in the ground—or not—will be resurrected, as we profess in our Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. Even if our bodies were not entombed in a coffin and/or buried in the ground, no matter how disconnected, distorted, or displaced the members of our bodies have become, God will resurrect our bodies into glorified bodies. Period.
Meanwhile, in Catholic teaching, we need to show respect for the bodies of the deceased, even though they will turn to dust (as we are reminded on Ash Wednesday). We need to show that respect because our bodies have been the temples of the Holy Spirit, and because our bodies will be resurrected.
As we consider the corporal and spiritual works of mercy associated with this Fourteenth Station, our hearts go out to those whose loved ones’ deceased bodies were not available for burial. Surely, those who are deprived by human or natural events with the consolation of having a burial place for their loved ones are among those whose affliction deserves our special comfort.
If you are one of those who has not had the consolation of burying a loved one’s body, and, therefore, have not been able to visit a loved one’s burial spot to express your grief and respect (as I am one of those, having a miscarried grandson whose little body was disposed by the hospital in which he died), please accept my prayers for God’s special consolation.
And please join me in trusting—without the least doubt—that we will see our loved ones again, with glorified eyes, when their bodies and ours will be resurrected by Our Lord, never to die again.