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The Myrrh-Bearers

The Myrrh-Bearers

Third Sunday of Pascha—Myrrh-bearing women; Prophet Job the Long-Suffering, Venerable Job of Pochaev / Acts 6.1-7; Mark 15.43 – 16.8

F/S/HS.  Brothers and sisters, I want to say a word about the Holy Myrrh-bearing women, who we honor ever second Sunday following Pascha.  As an introduction to these remarkable women, let me make an observation, the same observation made by Fr. Moses when I was down in Billings this past weekend, baptizing our newest granddaughter, during his Sunday morning homily.  And the same observation made by so many priests in the Orthodox world, about this second Sunday following Holy Pascha.

That observation is this.  How easy it is, how tempting, to be spiritually careless in the weeks following Holy Pascha!  A little voice arises in us: I made it through Great Lent!  I completed Holy Week.  I fasted and attended lots of services.  Whew!  Holy and glorious Pascha has come and is now gone.  And so it’s time to relax and take a break; time to feast

Yes indeed dear ones, this is a time to feast; a time to celebrate Christ’s trampling down death by His death; a time to joyfully shout the clarion proclamation: Christ is Risen!; a time to not fast nearly as intensely, a time and a season given by mother church to feast and to celebrate.

What Fr. Moses observed last Sunday, and what I observe, is the excess to which many of us carelessly relax our spiritual guard.  Attending church services becomes less important.  We do not pray as much.  We eat more, and more of the wrong things.  Sobriety and vigilance take a vacation, a back seat all the way up to Pentecost, six weeks from now. 

And in so doing we condemn ourselves of the very foolishness that Jesus condemned in his parable of the rich man, a man who labored hard and now wanted to reap the rewards of his labors.  And I will say to my soul, this man said to himself, take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry (Luke 12.19-20).  To which God forcefully responds: You are a fool!

And the moral in all of this dear ones?  In the words of St. John Maximovich, summarized in two sentences: How easy for our heart to incline towards gluttony and sloth.  Perseverance and laboring with an ardent faith does not come easy to the human heart.

Last week—Thomas Sunday—we well learned that perseverance and an ardent faith sometimes prove allusive.  Where were the Disciples in our Gospel for Thomas Sunday?  Our church fathers and mothers make a big deal symbolically of where they were.  They are in a room, locked behind closed doors.

Why locked away?  Because, last week’s Gospel says, for fear of the Jews.  Though ten of the Disciples know that Jesus has Risen, something nonetheless blocks their heart—in their case, fear! The Risen Jesus comes to them; He comes to them quite literally through the wall, suddenly appearing to them; the wall, being locked away, is symbolic of the many ways—often invisible ways—that we erect a barrier between us and our Lord.   

Peace be unto you, our sweetest Lord announces to those Disciples that He so loved.  In other words, set aside, let go of what gets between you and Me.  Peace be unto you, the priest announces several times to the faithful during our worship services.  Set aside, let go of that which hinders our relationship with our Lord.

Then, eight days later in last week’s Gospel, we find the Disciples again behind those same closed doors.  Only this time Thomas is with them.  And once again Jesus comes to them, through the wall, announcing yet again Peace be to you.  Thomas, who could not believe his fellow Disciples about the Risen Lord, has to put his hand in Jesus’ side and into the nail holes in His hands, before he can say those most remarkable words, My Lord and My God (John 20.28).

This morning sisters and brothers, the Holy Myrrh-bearing Women stand rather in contrast to the narrative of the struggling and apprehensive Disciples, who are behind closed doors, walls of fear separating them from the world that Jesus so loved that He gave His life for those in that world. 

These women are portrayed as women of persevering faith, rather undaunted by fear, replete with courage as they strive to bear witness to the Risen Jesus.  St. Nikolai Velimirovic imagines the Holy Myrrh-bearers as having to nearly prop the Disciples up in the early days following Jesus’ Resurrection, to call them forth from their fear of the Jews, and to exhort them to fulfill Jesus’ commandment to Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit … (Matthew 28.19).

Who are these Holy Myrrh-bearing Women?  They are, most specifically, Mary Magdalene; Mary the mother of James and Joses; Mary, the wife of Cleopas; Martha of Bethany, sister of Lazarus; Mary of Bethany, the other sister of Lazarus; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the steward of Herod Antipas; Salome, the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee; and Suzanna. 

And it is important to note the presence of two men also included in this group: Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus.  All of these women, and these two men, played a vital role during our Lord’s Passion narrative and following His death.  And some of them—the first to come to the Tomb of Jesus—were the first chosen by God to bear witness to the Risen Jesus.

In the words of two church historians about this morning’s Gospel and the Gospel of Mark in general: One of Mark’s overarching themes is that virtually no one during the ministry of Jesus fully understood who He was. His family struggled to understand. His townspeople didn’t understand. The leaders of his own people didn’t understand.  Even the Disciples struggle to understand.  For Mark, it is often outsiders who have an inkling of who Jesus was: the unnamed woman who anointed Him, and the centurion at the cross. And who understands Him at the end of His life? It’s a group of relatively unknown women … the women at the tomb … the holy myrrh-bearing women.  Who would make up the notion that a woman such as Mary Magdalene would be deemed by God the first to witness the Resurrected Lord!

 As our Lord’s Passion unfolds during Holy Week, it is the Holy Myrrh-bearing women who fulfill the customary roles appointed to loved ones who have lost a loved one.  They alone go to the Tomb, to anoint Jesus with precious spices.  Wondrous are their works in the eyes of God!  Wondrous is their fearless faith!  Wondrous are they as role models who, given the absence of Jesus in their lives, nonetheless attended to Jesus.  And O how they are rewarded, often being called Equal to the Disciples!

Eventually, a week or so after our Lord’s Resurrection, those Disciples do indeed join the Holy Myrrh-bearers, all of them going forth; going forth boldly and fearlessly proclaiming their Lord now Risen and alive.  Jesus had said to them before His death that the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth would be sent forth to live within their hearts, in His absence.  That Comforter will indeed come, following our Lord’s Ascension and at Pentecost, six Sundays from now.

And between now and Pentecost, what of us?  Are we going forth?  Or are we akin to the Disciples in those early days just following Jesus’ Resurrection, when rather than fear it is carelessness and sloth that hinders us from going forth into the world and bearing witness to our Risen Lord and the plentitude of His life living within us?  

And where we are careless and slothful dear brothers and sisters, where we say to ourselves as did the rich man: Now is the time to take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry; let us hear the words of our Lord that the soul of the rich man heard—You are a fool!

Dear ones, let me leave you with a precious little vignette of bearing witness in the world, of going forth rather than just sitting back and taking ease during this holy season. 

This past Thursday night several of our older teenagers and young adults gathered at the Christian Aid Center.  A group of them prepared the meal.  A group of them served the meal.  A group of them sang a cycle of songs during the meal.  One of the residents approached me.  No one has ever come and sang to us like that, during our meals, he said.  Thank you so much.  That means a lot to us.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Light has come into the world, Deacon John read Pascha morning two weeks ago, from the opening chapter of John’s Gospel.  The terribly sobering news is that many prefer to live in darkness; they did not prefer the Light, John hauntingly notes.  Many prefer a life of sloth and carelessness, a life of taking ease; eat, drink, and be merry.  Let it not be so amongst us, dear ones!

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.  Let Holy Pascha live within you such that you too go forth into the world, shining radiantly the light that lives within you.  Like the Holy Myrrh-bearing women, attend to Christ.  Let not fear, sloth, and carelessness adorn you.  Peace be unto you, our Lord said as medicine to help His Disciples be released from themselves and go forth.  Go forth dear ones, sharing the Good News of this same peace with this hurting world of ours.  F/S/HS