April 7, 2018

Concerning the Burial of the Lord (St. Cyril of Alexandria)

By St. Cyril of Alexandria

(Commentary on John, Bk. 12)

John 19:38. And after these things, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked of Pilate that he might take away the Body of Jesus, and, Pilate gave him leave. He came, therefore, and took away His Body.

This saying is indeed fraught with a grievous charge against the Jews, as it shows that to become a disciple of Christ was dangerous, and exposed a man to penalties; for he plainly introduces this most excellent young man - I mean Joseph - to our notice, as most especially anxious to escape the notice of the Jews, though he had been induced by Christ's teaching to choose that worship which was the reality itself, and better and more pleasing to the God Who loves virtue than the commandment of the Law, and at the same time gives us a proof necessary to confirm our faith. For it was necessary for us to believe that Christ laid down His Life for us. And is it not an inevitable consequence that, when a man is entombed, we must have a firm conviction that he also died? And we may well condemn, as guilty of gross brutality, the presumption, hard-heartedness, and merciless temper of the Jews, who did not even pay unto Christ the respect due to the dead, nor honor Him with burial rites, when they saw Him lying before them an inanimate corpse; though they knew that He was the Christ, and had often been amazed by the marvelous works that He did, even though their bitter hatred might never have allowed them to profit by His miraculous power. The disciple of Arimathea, therefore, passes judgment on the inhumanity of the Jews, and condemns the men of Jerusalem, when he goes and tends with fitting care the Body of Him Whom he did not as yet honor by an open confession of faith, but still believed on Him in secret, for fear of the Jews, as says the blessed Evangelist.

John 19:39. And there came also Nicodemus, he who at the first came to Him by night, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight.

He says that this disciple was not alone in taking counsel wisely, as well as in fervent zeal, to go to dress the sacred Body for burial, but he makes mention of a second along with the first. This was Nicodemus, who completed the body of testimony to the event that is respected by the Law. For, says the Law: "In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." The men who laid Jesus in the tomb were two in number, Joseph and Nicodemus; men who received the faith inwardly in their hearts, but were still scared by a foolish fear, and did not yet prefer to the honor and glory of the world that which is of God. For then they would have dismissed all fear of the Jews, and, paying slight heed to any danger from that quarter, would have indulged their faith fearlessly and freely, and thus have proved themselves holy, and good keepers of the commandment of our Savior.

John 19:40-41. So they took the Body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new tomb, wherein was never man yet laid.

Christ was numbered among the dead, Who for our sake became dead, according to the flesh, but Whom we conceive to be, and Who is, in fact, Life, of Himself, and through His Father. And, that He might fulfill all righteousness, that is, all that was appropriate to the form of man, He of His own will subjected the temple of His Body not merely to death, but also to what follows after death, that is, burial and being laid in the tomb. The writer of the Gospel says that this sepulchre in the garden was a new one; this fact signifying to us, as it were, by a type and figure, that Christ's death is the harbinger and pioneer of our entry into Paradise. For He entered as a forerunner for us. What other signification than this can be intended by the carrying over of the Body of Jesus in the garden? And by the newness of the sepulchre is meant the untrodden and strange pathway whereby we return from death unto life, and the renewing of our souls, that Christ has invented for us, whereby we baffle corruption. For henceforth, by the death of Christ, death for us has been transformed, in a manner, into sleep, with like power and functions. For we are alive unto God, and shall live for evermore, to the Scriptures. Therefore, also, the blessed Paul, in a variety of places, calls those asleep who have died in Christ. For in the times of old the dread presence of death held human nature in awe. For death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam's transgression; and we bore the image of the earthy in his likeness, and underwent the death that was inflicted by the Divine curse. But when the Second Adam appeared among us, the Divine Man from heaven, and, contending for the salvation of the world, purchased by His death the life of all men, and, destroying the power of corruption, rose again to life, we were transformed into His Image, and undergo, as it were, a different kind of death, that does not dissolve us in eternal corruption, but casts upon us a slumber which is laden with fair hope, after the Likeness of Him Who has made this new path for us, that is, Christ.

And if any one choose to give an additional meaning to the saying that the sepulchre was a new one, and that no man had been lain therein, be it so. He says, then, we may suppose, that the sepulchre was new, and that no one had been ever laid therein, that no one might be thought to have arisen from the sleep of death save Jesus only.

John 19:42. There, then, because of the Jews' preparation {for the tomb was nigh at hand), they laid Jesus.

He not only says plainly that Christ's Body was dressed for burial, and that there was a garden nigh unto the cross, and that there was a new sepulchre in it, but he also explains that He was laid therein, not leaving the least of the things which were done untold. For most essential truly to any creed or system of the mystery of our faith is the confession and the knowledge that Christ died. Therefore, also, the wise Paul, defining our rule of faith, speaks as follows: "The word is nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith, which we preach, because, if thou shalt say with thy mouth, Jesus is Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." And in another passage also: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received, how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried; and that He hath been raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures." Very essential, then, for us is the narrative which the writer of the book gives us on these points. For it was our bound duty to believe that He died and was buried; after that will easily follow the true belief, that He burst asunder the bonds of death, and returned as God to the life that was His own. For it was not possible that He should be held by death. For, being by nature Life, how could He have undergone corruption? And how could He in Whom we live, and move, and have our being, have been subjected to the laws to which our human nature is subject? Could He not rather, as God, have easily quickened that which lacked life?