Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women
Mark 15:43 – 16:8
On this day, we commemorate the holy myrrh-bearing women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the wife of Cleopas, Joanna, Salome, Susanna, and Mary and Martha the sisters of Lazarus – who approached the tomb of our Lord in order to anoint Him and honor Him. We also commemorate two righteous men: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus – who cared for Christ’s body and burial in those dangerous and uncertain hours following the crucifixion.
Each of these saints whom we commemorate today have much to say to us about courage, trust in God, and the reality and implications of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let’s speak first of courage… There is a courage born of love that is demonstrated both by all of these saints: the men, Joseph and Nicodemus, and by the myrrh-bearing women.
Joseph of Arimathea took the risk to approach Pilate and seek permission to care for the deceased body of Christ. He was a wealthy Jew and member of the Sanhedrin (a rabbinical court that dealt with religious laws and issues). He was also a secret follower of Christ. Seeing the body of His Lord upon the cross, He was moved by love and gratitude to see to His proper burial. Nicodemus, another secret follower of Christ from among the Sanhedrin, joined Joseph in taking down the body of our Lord from the cross and preparing Him for burial.
These men, who held important positions within the Jewish community, followed their love and their conscience… deeming it ‘the right thing to do’ to step forward for Christ and to care for His body. The climate surrounding Jesus at this time was very volatile and they both ran a risk of ridicule at the least, and bodily harm or death at worst, for daring to step forward as Christians at this dramatic moment.
Let us ask ourselves… do we share this same courage and fortitude? Are we willing to stand apart as Christians, to ‘do the right thing’ at all times, following the call of love and of our conscience no matter what the consequences might be? May God forgive us our lack of courage and grant us strength to always stand by our Lord Jesus Christ.
The myrrh-bearing women certainly demonstrated courage as well as a perfect trust in God. While all the other disciples hid in fear of the authorities, these women dared to venture out in the dark hours of the early morning to approach the tomb of Christ. Guards had been posted there to keep watch lest any of the disciples might come to take away the Body of our Lord. And the entrance to the tomb had been sealed by a huge boulder which these women had no chance of moving. From a worldly point of view there was nothing awaiting them at the tomb of Christ other than danger and probable arrest by the guards. What an impossible situation!
Yet, they went anyway…
When they arrived at the tomb, not only had the guards fled away, but the massive boulder that sealed the tomb had been miraculously rolled aside and their way was open before them. As they entered the tomb, an angel of the Lord arrayed in a white robe was there to greet them and these courageous women were the first people to hear the wonderful news that Christ had risen.
How often are we discouraged by fear, by lack of faith, by our assessment that something is impossible? As today’s Gospel shows us, with God nothing is impossible. We need to have the courage and faith in God to simply arise and go forward – fulfilling God’s will as it unfolds in our day to day lives. If something stands before us which we know is the right thing to do, we need to move forward with faith and trust in God – and, if it pleases God, then He will see to it that obstacles are removed. We need to be trusting and willing servants, having the courage of the myrrh-bearing women and the pure-hearted and selfless motivation of love for God.
The myrrh-bearers were among the first to hear the good news that Christ has risen. They came upon an empty tomb. Christ’s body was not there to be anointed, He has risen and was alive!
Brothers and sisters in Christ… do we fully understand the impact and implications that Christ is risen? Do we live our Christian lives in the fullness of the light of the resurrection of our Lord?
There is a temptation, certainly prevalent in our modern world, to memorialize Christ… to look back upon His life and teachings as inspiration, to regard the New Testament as an historical source book for understanding and encountering Christ, and to hold Christ in honor in much the same way we might honor a fallen hero.
Such an approach might be respectful and could even yield some virtue, but this is not the faith of our fathers and mothers! No, the myrrh-bearing women did not have the opportunity to show the respect they might give a fallen hero… for Christ was risen! He lived and walked among them for the next forty days and then He ascended into Heaven where He continues to live and interact with those who follow Him.
Let us never fall into the trap of memorializing Christ… It is a convenient temptation because a Christ Who we can put safely upon a shelf or a pedestal is not a Christ Who continues to challenge us and to console us, Who continues to call out to us to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Him.
A person viewing a beautiful painting may admire it, be inspired by it, may appreciate its beauty. But one who stands before an icon - crosses himself, enters into prayer and into a relationship with the one being represented in the icon. Such is the difference between the life of faith in Christ than merely idolizing Him as a hero.
Christ is alive and He asks something of us. May God grant us the courage to respond… May we trust Him with all of our heart – that He will remove all obstacles if He is calling us to do His will… And may we always know in our heart and mind, and live our lives in assurance that Christ is truly risen!