“And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock.
And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.” (Mark 15:46 ESV)
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Jesus is buried on the Day of Preparation which ends at sundown when the Jewish Sabbath begins. This detail in Mark’s Gospel is important because burial was forbidden on the Sabbath and executed criminals could not hang overnight (Deut 21:23). The Gospels mention nothing taking place on the Sabbath while Jesus lay in the tomb and the narrative resumes on the following day. In other words, Jesus rested in the tomb over the Sabbath. Holy Saturday was a day of mourning and grief.
A Grieving Holiday
Grief is more than crying. In Jesus’ Beatitudes, Matthew records: “Honored are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt 5:4) Luke records: “Honored are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21) Both accounts of this Beatitude are written in the form of a lament which has two parts. In the first part, one empties the heart of all grief and pain and anxiety in prayer to God; in the second part, having been emptied the heart turns to God in praise. In the lament, when we grieve, we make room in our hearts for God.
The Theology of Lament
The most famous lament in the Bible is cited by the Gospel of Mark as Jesus’ last words: “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) These words come from Psalm 22 verse one which turns to God in verse 19: “But You, O LORD, be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance.” At a time when much of scripture was memorized, rabbis would cite the first part of a passage knowing that the audience would fill in the missing part. Knowing this tradition, Jesus could cite the first verse in Psalm 22 knowing that people hearing him would know the Psalm and how it ended.
Jesus gave us a template for dealing with grief the night before during his prayer in Gethsemane. Mark records that Jesus’ prayed three times: “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” (Mark 14:36). Jesus is aware that he stands before the cross and does not want to die; still, he yields to God’s will. Each time we face pain and grief we are faced with a decision: do we turn to God or do we turn into our grief? Our identity is crafted from a lifetime of such decisions.
Joseph of Arimathea
The story of Joseph of Arimathea is instructive. Mark records: “Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” (Mark 15:43) Asking for the body of a man just crucified for sedition took guts. Yet, with no expectation of resurrection, on a day when Jesus’ inner circle was in hiding and in fear, Joseph “took courage” and asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Then, he buried him in his own grave .
Holy Saturday Reveals our Theology
Holy Saturday is a time to reflect on Christ’s crucifixion. Are we among those happy to see Jesus in the tomb or are we looking forward to the kingdom of God like Joseph of Arimathea?
 Burial is work, hence forbidden on the Sabbath (e.g. Deut 5:12-15).
 Also: Matthew 27:46. The direct citation of an Aramaic expression—“Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?” in both the Mark and Matthew accounts makes it more likely that these are the actual words of Jesus. This is because the most important expressions in the Bible are cited directly rather than translated or, in this case, the actual words are both cited and translated.
 Jesus does exactly that in Matthew 21:16 citing Psalm 8:2.
 What a picture of substitutionary atonement—Jesus was buried in my grave so that I do not have to be.