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“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4)

Sandwiched between Jesus’ death and resurrection is His burial. What is the significance of the burial? Any burial loudly proclaims that life is definitely over. The body is no longer able to function. Something has gone wrong. The “end of the line” has come. The body—without the soul, spirit, life-principle—is a useless, empty shell. To conceal the ugly sight and smell of the body’s decay, it is buried. The “dust” is returned to the ground whence it came—which is true of everything buried—pets, garbage, junk, rubble.

Christ was dead. Christ had given the dearest sacrifice possible to rescue us. He gave His own life into the punishment of death for our sins. To leave His body unburied in apparent defeat and in visible dishonor (it’s never an honor to be knocked down) would be to leave His body as a visible trophy of Satan. However, Jesus was buried with honor. Friends-in-the-background, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, respected members of the Jewish ruling council, wrapped His remains in fine new linen, sprinkled it with aromatic spices, and laid Him in a new tomb nearby, cut out of the rock. Even today, except in cases of necessity, it would be a disgrace to wrap the body of a loved one in a dirty, ragged cloth and place the body in a casket already fouled by prior use. He was buried with honor—not extravagance, but honor. That is still a goal for children of God today.

Did any of the friends and disciples grasp that Jesus’ body would not begin to decay? “Nor will you allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” (Psalm 16:10) Did any His friends grasp that in three days He would rise again? “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40) Perhaps Mary, the sister of Martha, did. She had anointed Jesus’ feet in preparation for His burial (John 12:7); perhaps she understood that on the third day He would rise.

At any rate, Jesus was indeed dead. He was hurriedly laid to “rest” late Friday afternoon, in preparation for the Sabbath, the Day of “Rest!” which pointed hearts to peace with God through His promised mercy.

A burial brings a sense of closure. The person is indeed dead, no longer fit to be at our side no matter how much loved. Burial also involves resignation—resignation to the fact of death, resignation to the fact that sin is the cause of death, and resignation to the reality that no one can do anything to fix it. Except God. And He did! Jesus would rise in victory!

In humble Christian resignation, we also lay our loved ones in the grave, allowing dust to return to the dust, with the conviction of the resurrection in Christ. He has gone before us into death and burial for our sins, and to the resurrection for our victory. For us who believe in Jesus, to enter the grave’s rest means the body awaits the Great Day of Rest when soul and body reunite to enter the mansions of heaven forever!

Perhaps we can “bend” the thoughts of Johannes Brahms’ tender “Lullaby,” to reflect Christian joy and expectation at the burial of a child of God:

			Lullaby and Good Night, with Christ's beauty so bright. 
			With blossoms o'er head, such a blest final bed. 
			Tomorrow morn, if God will, and He return from the skies; 
			Tomorrow morn, if God will, with Christ Jesus you rise!" 
			(Morgen früh, wenn Gott will, wirst du wieder geweckt!)
Richard Kanzenbach

Richard Kanzenbach is pastor of Saint Luke’s Lutheran Church in Lemmon, South Dakota.