Sunday, May 19, 2013

Homily for the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus in the Orthodox Church

Christ is Risen!
            We have now been celebrating our Lord’s victory over death for two weeks.  We will continue to do so for a few more weeks, saying “Christ is Risen” many times.  But we can’t let our celebration of Pascha stop there. For we want to live the new life that the Lord has brought to the world; we want to participate in His victory over sin, death, and all that separates us from life eternal.  And we can learn an important lesson in how to do that from those who were at the empty tomb on Easter morning, from the first witnesses of the resurrection who were told by the angel, “He is Risen.  He is not here…Go tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”
            These first witnesses to our salvation were all women who went to the tomb with oil and spices to anoint the dead body of Jesus Christ.  So we call them the myrrh-bearing women and we sing about them in Orthros virtually every Sunday.  These holy women obviously did not expect the resurrection. And they were surely heart-broken, afraid, and terribly disappointed that their Lord had been killed.  But they had the strength to offer Him one last act of love:  to anoint His body properly for burial, to pay their last respects.  And as they were doing so, these women-- Mary the Theotokos, Mary Magdalen, two other Mary’s, Johanna, Salome, Martha, Susanna and others whose names we don’t know--  were the first to receive the greatest news in the universe, the resurrection of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.   
            We remember along with these blessed women two men:  Sts. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, prominent Jewish leaders who were also secret followers of Jesus Christ.   Joseph risked his position and possibly his life by asking Pilate for the Savior’s body.  Nicodemus, who understood the Lord so poorly in a conversation recorded near the beginning of St. John’s gospel, came to faith and joined Joseph in wrapping the Lord in linen with spices and placing Him in a tomb.
            Like the myrrh-bearing women, these men must have been terribly sad and afraid.  Their hopes had been cruelly crushed; their world turned upside down; not only had their Lord died, He was the victim of public rejection, humiliation, and capital punishment.  Nonetheless, these women and men did what had to be done, despite the risk to themselves from the authorities and their own pain.  They served their Christ in the only way still available to them, by caring for His body.
            Before Jesus Christ’s death, He washed the feet of His disciples in order to show them what it meant to serve in humility as He did.  The myrrh-bearers weren’t present that evening, but they followed the Lord’s example of service better than anyone else.   Their selfless devotion to Christ put them in the place where they would be the first to receive the good news of the resurrection, the first to share in the joy of Pascha.  We have a lot to learn from them, as well as from Joseph and Nicodemus.  For if we want to live the new life of our Lord’s victory over death and corruption in all its forms, we must do as they did by serving in humility.
            The good news is that we have no lack of opportunities to serve Christ, in His Body, the Church, whether by giving someone without transportation a ride to church, maintaining our building and grounds, cleaning and beautifying the church temple, teaching Sunday School, chanting, hosting coffee hour, serving on the parish council or at the altar, reading the epistle in liturgy, inviting others to visit our services, or otherwise doing what needs to be done for the flourishing of our parish.  We should not be shy in answering the call to serve Christ in His Body, the Church. 
            We are also reminded of the importance of humble service in the Church by today’s passages from Acts in which the first deacons were ordained to oversee the distribution of bread to the needy widows who were supported by the Christian community.  The word deacon means “servant,” and we read that, after the deacons began their ministry, “the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.”  Perhaps the passage reads that way because humble service is the very backbone of the Church, an essential part of our faithfulness and growth as Christ’s Body. 
            Of course, we don’t encounter the Lord only in the visible boundaries of the Church.  For every human being is an icon of Christ, especially the poor, needy, and miserable.  In that we care for the least of these in society, for prisoners or refugees or the lonely or mentally ill, we care for Him.  In that we neglect them, we neglect Him.  The myrrh-bearers didn’t disregard Christ’s body in the tomb, and neither should we disregard the Lord’s body hungry, sick, poorly clothed, abused, or otherwise suffering in our world.  It’s not hard to find the Lord right here in Abilene in people who need our service and attention.  We should all do that we can to serve Christ in our needy and neglected neighbors.  That’s why our parish supports Pregnancy Resources of Abilene, buys presents for a family at Christmas, and supports the “Food for Hungry People” collection during Lent.   
            And so that we don’t let ourselves off the hook too easily, we should remember that this kind of service extends to each of us in how we treat those closest to us on a daily basis. Husbands and wives are to submit to one another in Christ; the relationship between man and woman is an image of the relationship between Church and the church; husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her.  Christian marriage is to be an icon of the kingdom of God in which husband and wife serve Christ in one another in the thousand small details of making a life together. And whether we are married or not, we have children, relatives, friends, and neighbors in whom we are to love and serve the Lord selflessly.    
            On this Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women, we need to ask ourselves if we really want to grow in the new life that the Risen Christ has brought to the world.  If so, we must prayerfully discern whether we are serving the Lord as we encounter Him daily in His Body, the Church, in our neighbors, and in our families.  For if we want to be transformed by the gloriously good news of the resurrection, we must not be distracted by our fears, doubts, prejudices, self-centeredness, or just plain laziness.  Instead, we must do what needs to be done in order to show love to Christ and all those for whom He died and rose again.  No, this isn’t a glamorous or easy path; but it’s the only one that will bring us with the myrrh-bearers to the joy of the empty tomb and the true meaning of Pascha as the deep truth of our lives.   Then we will participate personally in the blessedness of the Lord’s victory over sin and death, for Christ is Risen!        

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