Christ is Risen!
Today’s Gospel reading tells us of a very courageous man and some very amazing women, all of whom are exemplary models of true Christian love and devotion. While we traditionally call this Sunday the “Sunday of the Holy Myrrhbearing Women” it is more appropriately called the “Sunday of the Holy Myrrhbearers,” for the Myrrhbearers consisted not only of women, but of men also; Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus can rightly and legitimately be called “Myrrhbearers” and thus be included in the list of those who concerned themselves with the embalming and entombment of Jesus.
In the burial and Resurrection narratives given us in each of the four Gospels, we hear different women’s names mentioned as witnesses to the crucifixion, death, burial and Resurrection of Christ. Mary Magdalene is the only one mentioned in all four of the Gospels. The reason for this apparent discrepancy is that there were more than three women involved. Each of the Evangelists writes of the particular women who, first, were known to them personally, and second, were known to be at one or more of the four events of Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial and Resurrection.
According to the ancient tradition of the Church, the group of Myrrhbearers consists of the following individuals: Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James and Joseph (the Blessed Virgin Mary and Mother of Jesus); Mary, the wife of Cleophas; Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus; Joanna; Salome, the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebadee; Susanna; Joseph of Arimathea; and Nicodemus. All of these were eyewitnesses to one or more of the events of Jesus’ death, entombment and discovery of the empty tomb.
Let us begin first with Joseph of Arimathea, a man of singular courage. Joseph was a man of wealth and position but he was also a disciple of Jesus. At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, the Jewish authorities set about looking for anyone who was a follower of Jesus with the intent to kill them. People lived in great fear and terror and those who were actual disciples and followers of Jesus lived in the greatest fear of being found out, arrested and put to death. But Joseph of Arimathea did not live his life in fear. In fact, Joseph went with great boldness to Pontius Pilate to ask that the body of Jesus be released to him so that he could bury it properly. This is simply an amazing thing, for Joseph was putting his own life on the line for the sake of Jesus.
When Jesus’s own apostles deserted Him and went into hiding after His crucifixion, Joseph boldly goes to Pilate to ask for the Lord’s body. It was a very dangerous thing for Joseph to do, to go and ask for the body of Jesus, who was a known and convicted felon, a criminal subversive, and a heretic. But Joseph not only believed in Jesus, he loved Him dearly; for why else would he risk his own well-being and safety, yes even his own life, by going to ask for Jesus’ body if he did not love Him?
Love does not care about danger. A love that is genuine and strong overpowers fear and uncertainty. Love makes one bold and considers only the one who is loved. Love for another derives from love of one’s self and love of one’s self arises from the knowledge that one is loved by God. There is an intimacy to love that the world does not understand. The love of God permeates all things and only those who seek God first above all things are able to see this reality clearly enough and understand fully the great power love has. Love drives everything that is good and noble, and holy, for love is borne from depths of God. Joseph experienced this love; it was this intense love that gave him his boldness to go and ask Pilate for the body of the Savior.
Where there is love, there is no fear and where there is no fear, God is free to enter fully into us. Filled with God’s love we can accomplish anything, even that which we consider impossible. Just look at what Joseph of Arimathea accomplished in asking for the body of Jesus. It may not seem like such a big deal to you but when you consider that Joseph could have been arrested for being identified or even suspected of being a follower of Jesus and that he could have been put to death for his association with the Lord, it is truly an amazing act: a fearless, noble and heroic act borne out of love.
I am sure that Joseph was nervous and scared when he did what he did, but his love for Jesus was strong enough, was genuine enough, to overcome those feelings and give him the courage to do what he knew had to be done, and that was to do what he wanted to do: to bury the Friend, Master and Teacher whom he loved with all his heart.
While the three Synoptic Gospels tell us only about Joseph of Arimathea and his involvement in the burial of Jesus, St. John, in his Gospel, tells us about Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin but that he believed also in Jesus. Nicodemus helped Joseph take Jesus’ body down from the Cross and place it in the tomb, and brought also the spices and aloes necessary to embalm the body of Jesus.
The kind of boldness exhibited by Joseph and Nicodemus is the same kind of boldness shown by the Myrrh-bearing Women, because they too did something extremely dangerous by going openly to the tomb of Jesus to anoint His Body. Had the soldiers who were guarding the tomb not run away in fear, the women could have been arrested as well for being followers of Jesus. In fact, they could have even been killed on the spot by the centurions, had they been there, because the Romans were known for their brutal and spontaneous cruelty. And most probably, they had orders from their superiors to kill suspected followers of Jesus on sight.
The women, like Joseph and Nicodemus, were not afraid; they displayed their faith with great fervor. It is well known that the women supported Jesus and His Apostles materially and financially throughout the three years of Jesus’ public ministry. It was to Mary Magdalene that Jesus first appeared on the morning of His Resurrection and it was she who told the Apostles shortly thereafter that Jesus was risen from the dead.
These eight women and two men have much to teach us by their example and their depth of love for Christ. First and foremost, we need to understand that where there is love of God, genuine and complete, there is no fear, for perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18).
We live today in a world filled with fear, and that is because there is very little love of God. Hundreds of millions of people throughout the world have stopped loving God; they have denounced and renounced Him. They seek to erase and obliterate His presence and memory from among men. They seek to establish societies free from the influence of God so that they may do whatever they please, whenever they please. This striking and ardent campaign to remove God from the lives of His creatures bodes nothing but disaster for humanity. We see it clearly in the heresies of relativism and secularism which are spreading uncontrolled like a contagious disease throughout the world, especially in countries of the West.
What we need today is boldness; boldness in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and boldness in living the Gospel. We cannot live in fear of persecution and death. We must, like the Holy Myrrhbearers, walk boldly about witnessing and proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel and the glory and promise of the Resurrection. If we love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, then how, brothers and sisters, can we fail? Of whom then shall we be afraid? If God is on our side, then who can defeat us?
The boldness of the Myrrhbearers is an example for us; they are models whom we should be pleased and eager to emulate in our own lives. Their love of God was boundless; it was a love that defies all description. Even though they were terrified and scared, their love for Jesus gave them formidable boldness. Oh, that we could be like them!
If we act out of love, only good things will happen. Our love, if it is genuine, sincere, and selfless, will bear much good fruit. We may not always see it, but trust me when I say: God sees it! Like you, I oftentimes feel that the good that I do does not make a difference but when I sit back and reflect on it, I ask myself, “What are you doing it for, and why are you doing it?” If we are expecting something in return for the good that we do for others then we will be constantly disappointed and will always feel unfulfilled. Our love must be selfless and not seek anything in return. When we reach that point, our lives will acquire the same boldness which filled the lives of the Myrrhbearers, a love that caused them to go beyond themselves and live only for the Master.
Because we possess the fullness of the Christian Faith, we are required to act with boldness. But we cannot act with boldness if our hearts and souls are not filled with the love of and for God. God must be in us, His love must be in us and we must love Him with the same depth of love with which he loves and fills us.
God gives us many opportunities each and every day of our lives to become one with Him; by accepting Him more deeply and profoundly into our lives. But if we do not let Him into our lives, if we do not open ourselves up to His love, then we shall remain barren and our lives will wither on the Vine. Because we are the branches which shoot off the Vine, we certainly cannot live apart from the Vine. If we do not cultivate our lives in God, then we shall eventually dry up and die. We cultivate a life in God through regular prayer and fasting, through the reading of Holy Scripture and the writings of the Fathers, and through regular participation in the Divine Services and Holy Mysteries of the Church. If we do not do these things, if we do not pay close attention to them, then our hearts will grow cold and harden. God’s presence in our lives will fade away and the darkness of the corrupt and faithless world will overcome us.
The Myrrhbearers show us by the example of their lives that when we are filled with the love of God, we are also filled with boldness to witness to Him without fear. To be filled with the love of God and to love God completely and perfectly should be our most ardent desire, my brothers and sisters, for such a life is like none other. There is nothing on earth that can compare to the joy and happiness that comes from a sincere and genuine relationship with the Lord.
Each of the Myrrhbearers had an individual role in the events of the death, burial and Resurrection of Christ. We see this in the various differences that exist among the Gospel accounts of the Passion and Resurrection narratives. But they also had a role to play as a group. So it is for us too, brothers and sisters. Each of us has our own part to play in being witnesses to the works of Christ but we also have a role to play as a group, as a community of believers gathered around our Bishops and priests.
The primary responsibility of the Church is to sanctify the world. While we are to be conscious of and concerned about the poor and the marginalized, our first and foremost responsibility is to ensure that the divine mission of the Church to sanctify the world and lead souls to Christ is not neglected or relegated to some secondary position of priority. It is the singular responsibility of the Church to introduce all peoples of the world to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to lead them into His Body, into His life. The Myrrhbearers fulfilled this role being eye-witnesses to the death, burial and Resurrection of Jesus. But they did not keep this knowledge secret; they went and proclaimed it to all, beginning with the Apostles themselves. So great was their witness and boldness, in fact, that the Church has given them the title, “apostles to the Apostles.” In the case of Mary Magdalene, she has been honored by the Church with the title, “Equal-to-the-Apostles.”
We too can be like the Holy Myrrhbearers, brothers and sisters, but only if our love for and of God is genuine and singular. Our God is a jealous God. In other words, He is zealous for our well-being and happiness and thus wants to share Himself completely with us. He does not want us to stray from Him but He will not stand in our way should we choose to do so. The Myrrhbearers show us what our lives can be like if we choose God over the world. Fear dissipates when our lives are filled with the love of God. The Holy Myrrhbearers stand as eye witnesses to God’s love for us: that He does not break His promises and that He lives and can be known.
Let us learn, brothers and sisters, from the example of the Holy Myrrhbearers. Let us take all that we witnessed during Holy Week and Pascha, reflect on and contemplate it in our hearts, and then, like the Myrrhbearers go and announce the joy and promise of the Resurrection to all people everywhere, starting here in our own community, shouting: “Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!
CHRIST IS RISEN!