Essential Oils for Jesus’ Burial and the Grieving

You do realize God is amazing, don’t you? Today, the Saturday prior to Resurrection Sunday, I was listening to David Phelps sing “He’s Alive.” This song is told from Peter’s viewpoint after the crucifixion: he’s hiding in the Upper Room from both the despair of denying and losing Jesus and the fear of being found by Roman soldiers as a follower of Jesus. The song states, “…Then suddenly the air was filled with strange and sweet perfume…” Jesus had risen from the dead and was appearing to Peter.

The line in that stanza reminded me of a revelation God had given me, but I’d yet to find that topic on paper, regarding the “spices” used in burial. Spices in this context refers to oils, including aromatic essential oils, rather than the spices we cook with today. God said that not only were the oils selected to prepare the body, but they ministered to the grieving as they did so. And so it began—I needed to write about Jesus’ burial today.

The validation wasn’t as cut and dry as I would have liked, but as always, with research/digging, new nuggets were found.

David Stewart, Ph.D., is the author of Healing Oils of the Bible. In it he writes that Jewish culture had employed frankincense, cedarwood, and myrrh in Old Testament times, but during the times of the New Testament sandalwood became common in usage as well.

Interestingly, all four of these oils are known for stimulating the pineal gland. According to science, the pineal gland is dubbed the “intuition gland” because as one prays, this gland is stimulated. The pineal is also responsible for our circadian rhythm. This draws an important conclusion: One who prays, spending time with The Lord, receiving His wisdom and strength, has the natural consequence of being at rest spiritually and physically. If someone is grieving, it is often difficult for rest to occur in either realm.

The Bible specifically names sandalwood (aloes) and myrrh regarding Jesus: “And after this, Joseph of Arimathea—a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews—asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. And Pilate granted him permission. So he came and took away His body. And Nicodemus also, who first had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, [weighing] about a hundred pounds. So they took Jesus’ body and bound it in linen cloths with the spices (aromatics), as is the Jews’ customary way to prepare for burial.” (John 19:38-41 AMP) These men loved Jesus, even if it was behind closed doors. The value of the essential oils they used is between $150,000 – $200,000 today. Dr. Stewart writes, “This tells us two things: 1) Joseph and Nicodemus were very wealthy; and 2) their regard and reverence for their Lord and redeemer was very great, indeed.” Only kings received such extravagance in burial. They were grieving their king.

B.L. Cocherell quotes: “Were more spices and ointment necessary to finalize the embalming process? The historical record is vague on this point. However, we know that the women who prepared the spices felt it was necessary to apply more spices and ointment to the body, either as an additional show of honor and respect or out of necessity in order to finalize the process.” “And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came to the sepulcher at the rising of the sun” (Mark 16:1‑2 KJV).

As you may recall, when the women arrived, the stone was in place and they wondered how they would enter the tomb. Suddenly, an earthquake caused the tomb to be opened as the stone was rolled away. In fact, it was an angel that had descended. He tells them that Jesus is not there; that He is risen just as He said. They go in and find only the linen cloths Jesus had been wrapped in. The angel then says to go tell Peter and the other disciples. Mary Magdalene tells Peter and John. They all run back to the tomb. After examining, Peter and John leave while Mary stays behind. She was joyful after the encounter with the angel, but I suspect that Peter’s disbelief caused her to doubt the miracle. “Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’  At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. ‘Woman,’ he said, ‘why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’  ‘Thinking he was the gardener, she said,’ ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher)”  (John 20:11‑16 NIV).

Mary was still grieving. It was made clear that these women were coming to honor their Lord. They had already prepared the spices, mourning in the process. Though the scripture doesn’t specifically tell us what they were using, Jewish custom suggests the aromatics Dr. Stewart previously stated.

As I studied the oils discussed, not only did I notice the common denominator of the pineal stimulation, but there are emotions attached with their use. If one is having difficulty and/or fear of facing the world, myrrh is the suggested essential oil. In the same vain, sandalwood is recommended for those experiencing dread, fear, and/or terror.

Coincidence? I think not. Not only were these oils being inhaled by those mourning, but they were applied with the hands, thus being received topically. God, in all His love, wisdom, and sovereignty was helping emotionally support these individuals by placing these aromatics in Jewish custom. What a great God we serve!