For the Gospel Reading — Mark 15:43-47; 16:1-8
Christ is Risen! Truly, He is Risen!
Today is named for a group of courageous women… whom we call, “The Myrrh-Bearers.” These are the women who fearlessly followed the Lord as He was led to His death, who stood by Him while He suffered on the cross, and finally washed and wrapped His body for burial.
Of course, I don’t want to leave out the fact that today’s Gospel also includes a certain brave man as well—Joseph of Arimathea, He was a Pharisee, likely an older Jewish rabbi, an expert in religious Law, who sat on the counsel of the seventy (the Jewish Sanhedrin) a group of leaders who held a great deal of sway over Israel. In today’s Gospel reading though, Joseph of Arimathea embraced the certain termination of his prestigious career…and at great risk to his own life, made a very public display of his belief in Jesus. In fact, Saint John’s Gospel tells us that many of the Jewish leaders believed in Jesus during His lifetime, but that they didn’t say anything “for fear of the Jews.” St John goes on to say, that these Jewish leaders loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. (John 12:42-43) But, in glorious contrast to them, when Joseph of Arimathea witnessed the great mystery of Jesus’ crucifixion, he was filled with courage.
Unafraid of being recognized as a disciple of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea came to plead with Pilate (the Roman Governor) to give him the body of Christ. Joseph then used his own money to purchase a burial cloth for Jesus, then took his own new tomb and buried our Lord there. Being an expert in Jewish religious laws for burial, he likely supervised the rushed preparations that had to take place before the coming Sabbath. There was no time to wind the body in the typical winding sheet, but instead simply place some blocks of myrrh around it, and then modestly drape the cloth over, and wait till the Sabbath had passed to come back and finish. Nicodemus, another Pharisee who, secretly at first, became one of Jesus’ disciples, spent an enormous sum of money on a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes to help with the burial. He was later cast out of the synagogue, suffering persecution from his brother-Jewish-authorities for bravely exposing their plots to hide and deny the truth about Christ's Crucifixion and Resurrection. Joseph of Arimathea was also persecuted by the Jewish authorities for telling the truth about Christ’s resurrection.
And with them were the same seven women who had first gone to simply view the events of the cross from far off (at the end of every passion narrative it says, “And the women saw from afar off”). These were women who had now become quite courageous. No longer seeing “from afar off,” they went directly to the tomb, daring the Roman authorities and the Jewish priests & elders to do anything about it. These women we refer to as “Myrrh Bearers” are seen mainly in two icons – one is of our Lord’s entombment, the other is the one that shows that our Lord’s burial cloth is laying folded in the tomb and the angel is saying to them, “Why do you come to look for the living among the dead?” All of these people, mentioned in today’s Gospel (today’s Good News), should have continued to be in fear of the Jewish religious leaders who hated Christ for the threat He imposed on the racket they had going on. Jesus was bad for business and so were His disciples. And yet Joseph and Nicodemus and the seven myrrh-bearing women loved Christ so much, that they overcame their slavery to fear and they all became witnesses, testifying to the truth of His Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection.
But, so what? What significance do they hold for any of us today? In a sense the Church asks us all to become myrrh-bearers. Saint Paul, the Apostle, tells us that “the Body of Christ continues on as His Church.” All members of the Church are a part of the Body of Christ. Saint Paul, in his second letter to the Church in Corinth says, “Thanks be to God who leads us, wherever we are, on His own triumphant way, and makes our knowledge of Him spread throughout the world like a lovely perfume!” “We Christians,” he says, “have the unmistakable fragrance of Christ, noticeable to both those who are being saved and to those who are heading toward their own demise. But for those who are on the path to ruin, it has the stink of death…and for those who are being saved, it has the sweet fragrance of life.” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16)
Therefore, when we devote our lives to caring for Christ’s Body (His Church), we become myrrh-bearers throughout the world, and by His grace, witnesses to the mystery of His resurrection. When we’ve come to care for His Body, the Church, and we discover, by God’s grace, that the stone has been rolled away and the place is emanating with life and light…when we’ve finally become willing to offer of our very lives, putting our ministry to Christ’s Body first, in spite of life’s inconveniences …when we’re willing to reject everything that keeps us from attending to the Eucharistic celebration of Christ’s Death, Burial and Resurrection each Sunday…then we become a sweet-smelling fragrance to God and throughout the world. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, perhaps like these Myrrh-bearing women, you too struggle with whether or not to enter into ministry with Christ so closely…and so you only have enough courage, at first, to watch the Crucifixion “from afar off.” Perhaps you only barely have enough courage to quietly pray to Him in the darkness of midnight, tucked inside your bedroom where nobody else can hear, asking God to reveal to you what He would do, if He were you…in your situation…with your particular struggles…under your particular life-circumstances—“Lord, what would You do if You were me?”
Our Lord is waiting for that appointment from you. He longs to fill you with His Spirit, at your request…as we pray in our prayer to the Holy Spirit, “Come and abide in us, and cleanse of every stain, and save us.” Oh, how our Lord longs for each of us to make that request of Him from the depths of our hearts.
Just like the Myrrh-bearing women, after having seen the dreadful and awe-inspiring mystery…where the Creator of the universe willingly gave Himself over to a horrible death on a cross…we too must be willing to go to the tomb of our heart, knowing that for a long time, there’s been a large stone covering its entrance. Yet we must resolve to go there in the faithful hope that we might find a way into that tomb to minister to our Lord’s body there…as each of us is a part of His Body. And in such faithful hope, we discover there, the Risen Jesus Christ, and by God’s grace, we become animated with the life-giving courage of what that means for our own lives.
Meditate on that for a moment. If we go to the tomb of our hearts with our ointments of loving care for our Lord’s body—the Church—by God’s grace, we might just discover that the stone has been rolled away. It’s that stone, that when it covers up our heart makes us unable to see Him…unable to become like Him…unable to live courageously in participation with Him. So many times throughout our lives, we have a stone in front of our hearts. God, who is able to do all things, will roll it away if we persistently ask Him to. The women weren’t able to do it, and neither are we, yet we must purposely come to minister to the place where the stone is to discover that God has rolled it away.
This stone is made up of all the things that hold us back – our fear, our feelings of worthlessness, our failure to unify ourselves with Christ’s mission to the world, our self-inflicted difficulties, our feelings of despondency, our self-absorption which seems to take us over, despite our best intentions. All of these things close off the tomb of our hearts…and we need to ask God to help us find the Resurrected Christ there.
Of course, the mission of the Myrrh-bearing women didn’t stop there. Each of them continued to testify to the Lord’s resurrection until the day they died. Mary Magdalene, traveled the known world preaching the Good News. Some of the Myrrh-bearers met martyr’s deaths. Others died peacefully. What’s remarkable about their witness is that in a time and place were the roles of men and women were clearly defined, Jesus included these women as disciples in his mission to bring the Kingdom of God to the world…and it’s because of their fragrant testimony that we’re also filled with joy.
It’s become a popular misconception among many in the Orthodox Church today to say that doing evangelism (preaching-to and teaching others outside the Church about Christ’s Good News) isn’t an Orthodox thing to do. God help us if we subscribe to that heresy, because doing so basically says that these beautiful, Myrrh-bearing saints of the Orthodox Church weren’t really Orthodox. Doing so says that Saint Joseph of Arimathea (who went on to become one of the 70 apostles…going so far as to preach about the risen Christ in Jewish synagogues) wasn’t really Orthodox. It’s so absurd…God help us if we’ve participated in spreading such a lie. And God help us, especially, to become like those saints, who only sought to unite themselves with our Lord’s mission of love to the world. Brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s impossible to be united to Christ (to have theosis) if we reject becoming united with Him in His mission of bringing people to the kingdom of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. It’s impossible to become united with Him at the Chalice, partaking of His Body and Blood, if we refuse to unite ourselves with Him in His desire to make His Gospel known throughout the world.
Through the prayers of the Holy Myrrh-Bearing women, who at first watched from afar off, but later mustered up enormous courage to minister to Christ’s body…through the prayers of Joseph of Arimathea, who only secretly believed in Jesus at first, but later followed Him with great courage…may God, in His grace roll away the stone from our hearts, and give us the courage to become Myrrh-bearers throughout the world, and to live the fact, that when we also come to minister to the Body of Christ, we discover our own lives have become Risen in Him.
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!