There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 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. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 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. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. –Mark 15:40-47
Mark’s section here on the burial of Jesus is not simply an account of how it happened. It is a thorough certification that Jesus really was dead. Joseph of Arimathea is an eye-witness of powerful social standing, and he not only obtained Jesus’ body, but wrapped Jesus himself and laid Him in the tomb. But wait, there’s more: Joseph himself rolled the stone against the entrance of the tomb! And then there is the Roman centurion sent to verify that Jesus is dead (and this fellow had expert experience on whether someone had died on a cross yet or not). Even Pilate serves as a testator since he wouldn’t have let the body be taken down if he weren’t absolutely sure Jesus was dead. Finally, the women had observed it all from the first to the last, including the tomb itself.
Mark includes in his gospel more than one incident of women “getting it” when the men did not. He throws in that “there were also many other women” who had been ministering to Jesus. We don’t know much about them. It might be thought that Mark isn’t commending the named women here since they look “on from a distance” and presumably do not assist Joseph in taking Jesus down, wrapping him, or laying Him in the tomb. Are they merely eye-witnesses to it all, but not much more? Most likely Mark is introducing us to them because they become shockingly prominent—key players—in the story very soon afterward. What is certain is that these women, both the Marys and Salome, were there and the disciples were not!
Joseph is in a time crunch to deal with the body. It must be done before sunset because that’s when Sabbath will begin. He has a lot to deal with as well: anxiety, begging, waiting, taking down the body, wrapping it, laying it, and sealing the tomb with a giant stone. The heat is on in terms of logistics, but there is something much more that the original audience would have known that we are likely to miss if we move too quickly: this action will make Joseph ceremonially unclean. He will be cut out of the usual Sabbath practices that evening and the next day. He is a Pharisee and knows what a political, social, and religious risk this is, both with the Romans and the Jews.
If Joseph will receive certain uncleanness and suspicion at best, and at worst, charges from both the Romans and the Sanhedrin, then why would he do it? Luke tells us he didn’t agree with the Sanhedrin’s decision, but Mark does not. Even if he didn’t agree, that still would not warrant all this risk. Who would do such a thing? Only a family member. If you had a member of your family up there, you’d make yourself unclean for the Sabbath, but family would be the only ones to do this. We can only conclude that Joseph was treating Jesus as if he were a close member of the family, and he is doing his love-filled duty.
Mark says that Joseph was “himself looking for the kingdom of God.” There is no doubt that he has found it. He found it in a man, sent from God, announced by the prophet Elijah in John the Baptizer, confirmed by miracles, who shepherded the flock, warred against the Evil One, being rejected by the Temple, crucified by Jews and Gentiles, abandoned by His friends outside the camp, forsaken by God, and now dead. This brings the story to the Sabbath, and everything must rest, including the body of Jesus Himself. And that’s the gospel.
Come hear it preached and enacted in the supper with Jesus this Sunday.