A Biblical Bereavement Committee
Some Good PeopleA while back, I went to my weekly Bible Study and found that the class had been moved to a smaller room toward the back of the Parish Hall. I had noticed a lot more cars in the parking lot than usual, and there was a swirl of activity going on in the larger main room, where we normally met for Bible Study. I stopped a lady carrying a tray filled with delicious-looking refreshments and asked what was going on. She explained that there was to be as funeral later that morning. Then it clicked. All of these people stirring about with platters of food, setting up tables, moving chairs, organizing the kitchen, etc. were a part of the “Bereavement Committee.” I had seen the Bereavement Committee listed as one of the various committees in the Parish Bulletin before, but this was my first time to see the group in action. I was struck at what a giving service this was. I imagine they received phone calls just a few days prior with an announcement of the passing. Maybe some went to see the family, or possibly the person when still ill. These people, about 15 or so of them, were clearly not about to attend the funeral themselves; they were just working away in the background, doing what they could to offer the family a degree of comfort following their loss. Their efforts that day would provide the family and friends of the deceased with some true “comfort food” and a pleasant place to gather following the funeral.
Connections to the Time of Jesus’ DeathMy mind began to make a connection between these kind people and the handful of people in the Gospels who tended to the compassionate acts following Jesus’ crucifixion. Shortly after Jesus died, Sabbath was just a few hours away, so any caring-for-the-dead traditions had to be dealt with quickly. It was Joseph of Arimathea who requested the body of Jesus from Pontius Pilate (a brave move considering he was a member of the Sanhedrin Council). Nicodemus (another courageous one – a Pharisee) stepped in to help Joseph, bringing 100 pounds of an aloe-and-myrrh mixture. These two men hastily wrapped Jesus in clean linen cloths and placed Him in a nearby tomb – a new tomb hewn by Joseph himself. Mary Magdalene, Mary of Clopas and some other women of Galilee watched as the two men put Jesus’ body into the carved-in-rock tomb and then rolled a great stone before the opening. The Galilean women then went to prepare more spices for their Lord. The sun set before they were able to return, so all had to stop their preparations and rest for the Sabbath (Ex. 12:8–11).
The Holy Myrrhbearers
As soon as the sun raised on Sunday morning, ending the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Clopas, Salome, Joanna, and some other unnamed women gathered the spices and oils they had organized and set off to the tomb to anoint Christ, in an effort to make His burial more honorable and complete. Because of this caring action, these women are often referred to as “The Holy Myrrhbearers” among eastern Christians. As the women walked along, they discussed how they might move the large stone that had been set before the opening of the tomb. These Galilean women, however, were stunned when they saw the stone already shoved to the side, with two brilliant angels sitting inside! The angels (or angel – the Gospels vary) told them that Jesus had risen from the dead and encouraged the women to go and share the good news with the apostles and other believers, which they did.
Although the specifics of their duties are not identical, their main goals are similar – to treat the dead with honor and respect. I like to think that every time some generous Bereavement Committee members gather together to plan out the details of offering kindness following a death that Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and these myrrhbearing women are looking down from heaven with joy ― perhaps even offering some heavenly assistance. I like to consider these compassionate Biblical characters as the earliest traces of and patrons of today’s Catholic Bereavement Committees.
Relevant Bible Passages to Ponder
Achtemeier, Paul, Ed. Harper’s Bible Dictionary. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1985.
Brown, R., Fitzmyer J., and Murphy, R., Editors. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990.
The Catholic Comparative New Testament. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2005.
Cunial, Hector, Imprimatur. The New World Dictionary Concordance to the New American Bible. Charlotte, North Carolina: C.D. Stampley Enterprises, Inc., 1970.
The New American Bible for Catholics. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 1991.
Then and Now Bible Map Book. Necedah, Wisconsin, Ascension Press of Rose Publishing, Inc., 2003.