May 3, 2020
On the third Sunday after Pascha, the Church celebrates the first witnesses of the Lord’s Resurrection — the women who came to anoint His body with fragrant oils, the “Myrrhbearers” — along with the men who took Him down from the cross and buried Him, St. Joseph of Arimathea & St. Nicodemus the Righteous.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified on Friday — the day before the Sabbath (Saturday) and the day before the Jewish feast of the Passover. When He died, it was imperative that He be buried before the Sabbath, because it was against the Law to work on the Sabbath. Ss. Joseph & Nicodemus took His body down from the cross, hastily anointed the Lord with aloes and spices, and wrapped Him in a shroud made of linen. They placed Him in a new tomb, intended for Joseph originally, and sealed it with a massive stone.
While Peter and the other male disciples slept, the women disciples of the Lord bought more spices, fragrant oils and myrrh. They went to the tomb as soon as it was beginning to dawn, to finish the job of preparing His body. As they walked, they discussed how they could even get into the tomb, sealed by that huge stone that was too heavy for them to move.
When they arrived, the tomb was open, and He was gone! He had risen, as He foretold. They made several trips back and forth to Jerusalem, telling the disciples the good news, leading them back to the tomb, and searching for His Body to confirm the Resurrection the angels proclaimed. Thus, the Holy Myrrh-bearing women were not only the first disciples to witness the resurrection, they were also the first disciples to proclaim the resurrection!
But for a moment I would like to back-track. I’d like to back-track to that walk in the pre-dawn morning. We’ve talked before about this walk of the myrrh-bearing women in terms of their courage. It’s worth repeating. To recap: Both the Roman and the Jewish authorities were on the lookout to arrest and try any of the disciples of Jesus that they could catch, yet the women walked on. The temple leaders also feared that some of Jesus’ disciples might try to steal His body and proclaim that He had risen. That’s why they set a guard. They were a band of soldiers, and their job was to prevent anyone from approaching or opening the tomb, yet the women walked on. The men were hiding. The men were sleeping, yet the women walked on. Now that’s what I call courage, courage fueled by faith!
But now I want to reference another aspect of this walk. What is that? Well, it’s a walk that all of us are supposed to take every Holy Saturday night. We were prevented this year, but next year should be different, I pray! This the meaning of that sacred triple circumambulation we take around the temple. We are supposed to be imitating the Holy Myrrh-bearers. Isn’t that why we carry lit candles signifying our faith in the one Who is the Light of the World? Isn’t that why we sing “Thy resurrection O Christ our Saviour, the angels in heaven sing, enable us on earth, to glorify Thee with purity of heart.” Isn’t that about us, imitating the holy myrrhbearers, and singing about the resurrection in anticipation of the resurrection? Yes! Yes it is! And what about “purity of heart?” Doesn’t that refer to all of our efforts during Great Lent, all of our sacrifices, all of our repentance, all of our labors to change our lives, change our habits, change our attitudes and the way we deal with other people? Isn’t it all done so that we, as St Paul says, might become “a sweet perfume of Christ to God to those being saved; and to those who are perishing?” (2 Corinthian 2:15). And what does Yeshua ben Sira say? “Listen to me, my faithful children, and blossom like a rose growing by a stream of water. Send out fragrance like incense, and put forth blossoms like a lily. Diffuse your sweet aroma, and sing a hymn of praise; bless the Lord for all his works” (Sirach 39: 13-14).
So, dear ones, as we remember the Holy Myrrh-bearers today, let’s not forget that their walk of faith and courage needs to be an example for us for our whole lives. First: Always walk toward Christ, always seek Christ even though evils and dangers surround you. Even if others tell you He is dead, keep on walking. Never hide from Him or run away from Him. Second: Always carry with you in your hearts the flame of faith that recognizes that only Christ is the Light of the world and no one else. Only He can vanquish the darkness. Only He can conquer death. Third: Always make sure that you are striving to be a myrrh-bearer, a sweet fragrance of Christ in the world. Always seek to acquire the virtues and to shed the evil passions, then the Holy Spirit will lead you, lead you to that place where angels will await you, where Christ Himself will greet you, where things too heavy for you to move or too hard for you to bear will be rolled away forever, where the tomb is always empty, and death is no more. Amen. Christ is Risen!