I’ve been working through a book from one of my favorite authors as he does an in-depth examination of the Apostles’ Creed. The author points out how interesting it is that the Creed specifically mentions that Jesus was buried. At the point of His burial, He was already dead. We don’t really need further confirmation of what happened to Him. We’ve already established the historicity of the account by affirming that it was Pilate who condemned Him to death and we know He was already crucified. If His death was all that mattered, then confessing His burial adds nothing to the theological significance of what has happened to Him. He has already paid for the sins of the world through His death. Nothing more needs to be added.
Obviously, that’s not entirely correct. Jesus has been reliving and reenacting Creation throughout Holy Week, culminating with the restoration of mankind as “very good” through the death that undoes the sin that initially brought death into the world. St. Peter also tells us Jesus is announcing the victory to those in hell. Still, in terms of the story of our salvation, Jesus’ burial is almost completely overshadowed by both His death and His resurrection.
That’s a little unfortunate, as the early church’s view of this moment makes these three days into one cohesive whole, often called “the Triduum.” Jesus’ burial was as much a part of the plan as His crucifixion and His resurrection. It is not by accident He rests on the Sabbath as He did back on the very first Sabbath when the work of creation was done. He has taken the sin we committed. He has died the death meant for us. He was buried in the tomb meant for us, and all of this to break the bonds of death.
Jesus doesn’t just die. He is buried. The tomb is the earthly representation of Sheol, hell, a place of shadows and silence. It is into this tomb, into Sheol, that Christ goes. However, He doesn’t go as one condemned, one who justly suffers the punishment for sin. Rather, here He goes in glory. He goes in triumph. He goes to everyone and everything that has rejected Him, to everything that stands in opposition to Him and His divinity shines forth through His humanity. Even here in death, God is there to bring life. Even in hell, God reigns supreme. Jesus’ fragile human body becomes the divine Trojan horse, carrying light into even the deepest darkness.
This gives us a better understanding of why St. Paul brings baptism into the middle of all of this. Note again his wording in Romans 6: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (emphasis added). We don’t just die with Him. We are buried with Him. Entering the water is entering the tomb, the darkness and silence. It is reminiscent of the day after the rain ceased in the days of Noah. The world has been buried, not in dirt but in water. All is dark and quiet.
It is into this darkness and silence that the light and life of Christ shines. The prophecy from Isaiah takes on new meaning, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” It is not just that Jesus was born or even that He died. He was buried, and into that place of death, life now blooms anew.
In baptism, we enter the tomb and the darkness. It is there we find the light of Christ shining and bringing life. Our dying bodies are renewed and given life. We leave the tomb because we share in the life that is beyond death, the life that announces its triumph over darkness and death. We are buried and born again.