Christ is Risen!
Jesus, the One so many believed to be the Messiah, was dead, executed like a common criminal. He had taken an agonizing three hours to die. The soldiers who had mocked Jesus were tossing dice nearby, gambling for His beautifully woven tunic as His limp body hung from the cross.
Judas Iscariot was busy planning his suicide, after throwing down the thirty silver coins he was paid for betraying Jesus.
The priests were already making plans to use the tainted silver to buy a field owned by the local potter, to be used as a cemetery for the indigent and foreigners.
Simon Peter was sitting under the porch outside the High Priest's courtyard, weeping in shame for having denied knowing Jesus -- not once, not twice, but three times -- before the rooster crowed. He had not attended the crucifixion, but probably suspected that by now Jesus was dead.
The other disciples were hiding, afraid. Peter would soon join them.
Who, then, had the courage to care for Jesus at the end? Who took His body down from the horrible cross and prepared it for burial with fragrant plant resins and spices, as was their funeral custom? Who buried Him?
Joseph of Arimathea, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin or Jewish supreme court, was there. Joseph bravely entered the palace and asked Pontius Pilate to release Jesus' body to him.
After Pilate agreed, Nicodemus, also a Pharisee and a judge of the Sanhedrin, helped Joseph take Jesus down from the cross and prepare Him for burial. Joseph had purchased a shroud of fine linen, and Nicodemus had brought rare myrrh and aloes. Nicodemus was the one who visited Jesus secretly at night to ask questions about the Kingdom, eternal life, and being born again.
Finally, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, three of the women who had supported Jesus' ministry and had been healed by Him of various infirmities, faithfully remained at Golgotha to the end, and accompanied Joseph and Nicodemus as they prepared Jesus' body for burial and placed it in Joseph's tomb.
The women then went and bought sweet spices, so they might return on Sunday morning and anoint the body. Because of this thoughtful act, they were blessed by God to be the first recorded witnesses to the resurrection.
In his letter to the church at Corinth, Saint Paul would later say that more than five hundred people eventually saw Jesus alive after the resurrection. We know very few of their names. But nearly two thousand years later, we continue to remember and celebrate these five faithful followers for their courage, loyalty and kindness to Jesus in those early hours after His death. If we have not forgotten their faithfulness and love, we can be assured, neither has He.
Christ is risen!
Truly, He is risen!
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