For Christians around the world, Easter is a time for both thoughtful contemplation and joyful triumph. The holiday revolves around the life of Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection, which Christians believe broke the power of sin and made it possible for mankind to live an abundant life of freedom and close relationship with God.
But before the happy moment when Jesus’s friends, family, and disciples realized He was alive, they grieved His loss for two days. As we look at the four Gospel accounts (the Books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), we can see 5 distinct reactions to Jesus’s death and how people mourned His passing.
1. Honoring Jesus with a Final Resting Place
The Books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all recount the events of Jesus’s death on the cross. In each one, a man named Joseph of Arimathea plays a key role. In the Book of John, we’re told that Joseph kept his allegiance to Jesus secret because he feared the Jewish leaders. However, Joseph revealed himself to all when he asked Pontius Pilate, the Roman leader, if he could have Jesus’s body for burial. He placed Jesus in a tomb intended for Joseph and his family. Through this expression of grief, Joseph honored Jesus and showed deep respect and care for Him.
Today, we do much the same thing, though we don’t often use tombs anymore. Now, we may bury a loved one in a cemetery or scatter their cremated remains in a special place. No matter what is chosen, we still honor loved ones by giving them a place of final rest. (References: Matthew 27:55-61; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38-42)
2. Supporting Jesus at the Time of His Death
Another expression of care and grief highlighted in the biblical narrative is the supportive presence of Jesus’s loved ones at the time of His death. Each Gospel includes the names of different people, so we can conclude that there were quite a few of Jesus’s followers nearby when He was crucified. Why were they there? To offer Him their support during His time of need. To grieve and to see for themselves what happened to Him.
We still practice this expression of love and care today. When a loved one’s death is pending, we sit by their side. Family members come from far away to say their goodbyes. Friends and neighbors offer their love and support. In Jesus’s case, His followers couldn’t hold His hand, but they could stand near Him and make their presence known. (References: Matthew 27:55-56; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 23:49; John 19:25-27)
3. Preparing Jesus’s Body for Burial
Jesus was crucified on a Friday, not long before Sabbath began. In the Jewish tradition, Sabbath is a day devoted to rest, which meant that Jesus’s burial needed to take place quickly. With help from Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea prepared Jesus’s body for burial. As was the custom at the time, they wrapped Jesus’s body in clean linen perfumed with ointments and spices, such as myrrh. They then placed Jesus’s body in the tomb before leaving to prepare for the Sabbath.
Before funeral homes became the norm, families washed, dressed, and prepared a loved one for burial themselves. This was intended to show love and respect to the deceased and give family members quiet moments to grieve the passing of someone loved. Today, we work closely with the funeral home to ensure a loved one’s care and preparation, but the custom of caring for and preparing the body still remains.(References: Mark 16:1-2; Luke 23:50-54; John 19:38-40)
4. Visiting Jesus’s Tomb
The day after the Sabbath, several women went to visit Jesus’s tomb in the morning. In Luke 24:55-56, the text states that the women witnessed Joseph of Arimathea taking Jesus’s body and placing it in the tomb. Seeing this, the women went home to prepare additional burial spices, but they were unable to return to the tomb before Sabbath began. Therefore, at the first opportunity Sunday morning, they went to visit Jesus’s grave and further care for His body by applying more spices. Instead, they encountered an empty tomb and two angels, who gave them the good news of Jesus’s resurrection.
Visiting a loved one’s final resting place is still a common practice, and it can be part of the healing process. By visiting Jesus’s grave, the women not only showed great love, but they also created an opportunity to cry together and grieve His death. (References: Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-2; Luke 24:1)
5. Experiencing Sadness over Jesus’s Death
In Luke’s Gospel, he includes the story of two men who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus. When Jesus joined the two men, he had already risen from the grave and was appearing to many of his followers. Jesus asked the men what they were discussing. Without recognizing Him and “with sadness written across their faces,” they told him about Jesus’s death (Luke 24:17). This passage shows what many of Jesus’s followers felt – a deep sadness. They not only loved Him as a person, but they also believed He was the promised Savior.
In our own lives, we experience deep sadness when our loved ones die. You may also feel many other emotions, like anger, fear, shock, or guilt. All of these emotions are completely natural when you’re trying to accept and make sense of someone’s death. But as you engage with your emotions and seek to understand them and express them, you will begin to heal. (Reference: Luke 24:17-18)
The Bible has provided wisdom, comfort, instruction, and encouragement to people from all over the world for millennia. In the Easter story, and in other places throughout the Bible, we see examples of what it means to grieve and how to process the pain we feel. If you are hurting this Easter, may God place His loving arms around you and give you peace, comfort, and hope that He is with you always.