Lenten Meditations from the Pastoral Concerns Dept – Day 40 “BURIAL OF JESUS: UNCLAIMED BODIES”
[The Pastoral Concerns Department of the Church of South India brings out devotions for the 40 Lenten Days in 2019 beginning from the Ash Wednesday. A group of CSI Presbyters from the five states of South India prepared these devotions and published on this official website of the CSI Synod, Official Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/csisynodcommunication/ and the official WhatsApp Broadcast from the number +91 9840577404. You can read/download the English version of the devotion here. The writer of the devotion presents the same in a video on the day. Watch here Rev.Sudhakar Joshua P, Presbyter, CSI Karnataka Central Diocese gives a meditation “BURIAL OF JESUS: UNCLAIMED BODIES”
Lenten Meditations- Day 40 (for 20th April 2019)
“BURIAL OF JESUS: UNCLAIMED BODIES”
Selected Text: Isaiah 53 | Hebrews 13:12-15 | St. John 19:38-42
As long as a person lives s/he is called by name. Once a person ceases to breathe, the name is dropped and people start talking about the burial/funeral of the “body.” Though the usage of the term is quite inevitable while talking about the performance of the final rites, what is quite conspicuous is the dropping of the proper noun or the ‘name’ of the person while doing so. Closely reading the “burial” episode of Jesus in all the four gospels, it is seen that Joseph of Arimathea asked for the ‘body of Jesus.’ The usage of the term “body” is inevitable, indicating clearly that Jesus was ‘dead.’ Some commentaries find this act of the burial of Jesus bearing a connection to Isaiah 53:9. The one who brought salvation by way of his death himself needed a place to be buried.
Yes! Jesus was dead. What remained was just bones and flesh, with hardly any blood within. His spirit was yielded.
We will try to talk about the ‘unclaimed’ or abandoned ‘bodies’ of human beings who end up being ‘not fortunate enough’ even to have the mortal remains cremated as is wont to be. This will be done in the light of the burial of Jesus, who was ‘left to die’ by the government authorities, family members, disciples, followers, temple authorities, and a huge fan of followers from Galilee to Judah, and beyond the then Jewish borders of geography. An attempt is being made to draw parallels between what happened to the ‘body’ of Jesus after his death and the vast number of unclaimed bodies.
The popular dailies and several news channels in India had reported a shocking incident on the 11th of January 2019, where a cop serving the Police department in Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh, a state in north India, allegedly burnt the unclaimed ‘body’ of an elderly person (after it was found in Sisana village), with tyres and plastic waste. This ghastly incident supposedly took place in a situation where, provisions are made available for unclaimed bodies to be given a decent and honourable cremation/funeral. Out of the Rs.2700 allotted for carrying out the cremation, normally Rs.400 is for transporting the ‘body’ while Rs.300 is spent for the cloth/shroud. In this case the accused cop allegedly decided to burn the ‘body’ and pocket the allotted funds, much to the shame of the department and humanity itself. Videos of the ‘burning’ incident went viral over several media. This is not the only stray case of sheer apathy when it comes to ‘unclaimed bodies.’
However, there are also several other stories too, depicting the ‘other’ side of humanity where one gets to see dramatic responses from some individuals, who, in spite of taking painstaking efforts to provide a memorable burial to ‘unclaimed bodies’ go unrecognized.
Nayna Devekar, again a 37 year old ‘cop’ serving the Government Railway Police (GRP) took time to go through the list of deceased persons at Railway stations and took custody of the unclaimed bodies to perform their last rites. As reported in local media in the state of Maharashtra in the year 2015, Devekar had been performing the acts for three years from 2012. Devekar went a step ahead in trying to find the religious faith of the deceased persons who died on Railway tracks and then ensured that the rites were performed accordingly.
In a historic Roman letter written by one Brutus Mentallus, Director of the Roman Bureau of Information, in the early centuries, to Senator Stentorius Maximus, the writer penned a few lines this way- “…he (Jesus) threatened Rome. We saw him clearly as treasonable to Caesar and arranged for his arrest, and crucified him. It was best for us that he die. It had to end this way. For Rome, Jesus was a rebel. He was no different from the other numerous ‘accused,’ sentenced to death on the cross. His ‘body’ and ‘burial’ didn’t mean much to them. While one wonders why the members of the family of Jesus didn’t find a mention in the burial episode, the plight of the other two hanging beside Jesus after their legs were broken is not recorded in the Bible. One could assume that a good Roman official like today’s merciful cop Nayna Devekar ‘claimed’ their ‘bodies’ and performed the last rites.
The Bible records the burial episodes of the Patriarchs Abraham (Gen.25), Isaac (Gen.35), Jacob (Gen.50), and that of Joseph (Gen.50 & Joshua.24), Joshua (Joshua.24) & Stephen (Acts.8). In all of these, the family/descendants/devout humans took charge of performing the ‘burial’ of the deceased according to tradition, or wishes of the deceased. In stark contrast, the burial of Jesus is taken care of by two individuals, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, both, holding a non-consanguineous bond with Jesus. The act of these two officials could be termed ‘courage-filled,’ given the situation where Jesus was just considered another ‘rebel’ and not a ‘saintly’ figure of the times. Moreover, Nicodemus, who met Jesus by night (John.3), was now out in the open to declare his regard and respect for the ‘rebel’ Jesus. He was carrying a mixture of myrrh and aloes. A remarkable turn-around!
The author of the book of Hebrews appeals in the 13th chapter to ‘show hospitality to strangers.’ Joseph & Nicodemus had shown hospitality to the ‘stranger’ Jesus. Furthermore the same chapter also mentions the ‘sanctity’ brought about by the ‘suffering’ of the rebel-stranger Jesus.
Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Nayna Devekar, and many more unsung champions have risen to the situation, acting both courageously and without expectations. This, because they were driven by their imperturbable conviction. Jesus is the grain of wheat that fell on Golgotha and died. But for his death, the lives of humans would have remained ‘unclaimed,’ and left to the mercy of the elements.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood, from Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure, save me from its guilt and power
Nothing in my hands I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked come to Thee for dress, Helpless, look to Thee for grace:
Foul, I to the fountain fly, Wash me Saviour, or I die.
Enter the veil & go without the camp, Taste heaven’s sweetness, thus the earth forsake;
If by the Holiest I am satisfied, How can I of earth’s vanities partake?
Enter the veil & go without the camp, By heaven’s presence will the earth depart;
If heaven’s glory doth my spirit charm, How can earth’s happiness possess my heart?
Enter the veil till it exists no more, Go out the camp till all the camps are gone;
Until the heavens and the earth unite, Till God and man together dwell in one.
O Almighty God, you sent your Son, Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice on the altar where mere animals or their blood would not suffice to steer clear of the cloud of sin caused by human error. The blood of Jesus cleansed us and prepared us for a new life. Having accepted the power of the blood of your Son, Jesus, let us strive to also suffer for the cause of fellow humans, both known and unknown, and struggle without murmuring during the course of our earthly journey. Give us courage to display love upon fellow human beings to their point of death and beyond. In the name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Rev. Sudhakar Joshua P
CSI Karnataka Central Diocese