To Be Human
There came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. – Matthew 27:57-60 (NRSV)
In Skhul Cave, near Nazareth in lower Galilee, archaeologists discovered the oldest undisputed burial of Homo sapiens. One of the bodies, labeled “Skhul V,” was placed in a small oval grave, hewn in the rock, tucked tightly into a fetal position, the lower jaw of a wild boar placed on top. All of that, some 90,000-100,000 years ago.
Our ancient tendency toward burial has led some to suggest that the Latin root of the word “humanity” is drawn from humando, meaning “burying.” To be human is to bury and to be buried.
Certainly both words (and all of us) are drawn from humus.
Today we reflect on Jesus’ final act of humanity: being laid lovingly in Joseph’s family plot. Wrapped in cloths and placed in a niche carved into the stone to protect his body from scavengers. Just the way people there had been doing for tens of thousands of years. Just the way they had been doing since they were people.
Today the promise of Christmas is kept. The promise of Emmanuel, God with us, in this final act of solidarity. Laid in the ground as we have laid so many down. Returning to the earth as we ourselves will return.
Jesus, we grieve, and we thank you.
Vince Amlin is co-pastor of Bethany UCC, Chicago, and co-planter of Gilead Church Chicago, forming now.