Homily 3rd Sunday of Pascha: The Myrrh-bearing women/St. Joseph of Arimathea/St. Nicodemus

Mark -16:8

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen;

Christ is risen!  Indeed He is risen!

          Looking at the life of Christ one could say that for us there are two crucial aspects of our own Life in Christ (though one could find more than two, certainly…we will focus on two for now).  The first is death… and that includes the crucifixion and burial.  The other is the resurrection, the rising from the dead. Today’s reading reminds us of this in concrete terms.  In the story of Joseph and the Myrrh-bearing women we hear the narrative of Christ’s burial and of the discovery of His resurrection.  This alone, is amazing and beautiful.  However, in our lives we are called to make these Biblical stories, these histories, part of our being; to assimilate them into our own life stories.

          Blessed Theophylact has a very powerful way of looking at the burial of Christ which leads us into a positive means of living out the Gospel and helps us assimilate the life in Christ.  He writes:

“Joseph” (the name Joseph) means “increase,” and “Arimathea” means “taking hold of that.”  Let us be like Joseph, always increasing in virtue, and taking hold of that which is truly good.  And let us also take the Body of Jesus, through Holy Communion, and place it in a tomb hewn out of rock, that is, place It within a soul which always remembers God and does not forget Him (this is a play on the Greek words for tomb and memory which have the same root word).  And let that soul be hewn from a rock that is, from Christ Who is the Rock on which we are established.  And let us wrap the Body of Jesus in the linen, that is, let us receive it within a pure body.  For the body is the linen and, as it were, the garment of the soul.  For we must receive the divine Body of the Lord not only with a pure soul, but with a pure body as well.  And we must wrap it and enfold it within ourselves, and not leave it exposed.

          This emphasis that Blessed Theophylact gives on the tomb being the soul which receives Christ in purity, reminds me of St. Paul who teaches us to put aside the ways of life that we formerly led and to realize that our old man, our sinful man, was crucified with Christ.  We are to crucify our sinful wills and sinful tendencies, and to let them die.  Indeed St. Paul likened our baptism as the death of the old man.  He writes in Romans, “our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” (Rom. 6:6)  If we are to place Christ in our souls as Joseph placed Christ in the tomb; if we are to have the clean linens that represent a spotless life that will wrap the body of Christ, then we will have to crucify our old man with Christ.  If we are to grasp virtue then we are to let go of our sinful ways, our uncleanness.

          To clean the linens to make them suitable for the Lord is a difficult task.  As I’ve said before the passage in Psalm 50 which says “wash me and I shall be clean, sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be whiter than snow…” refers to laundering, not bodily washing.  The Psalmist is saying, actually, launder me and I shall be clean.  In the old days that meant pounding the clothes on rocks.  If we are to take the Lord’s body in clean linen….there’s going to be some pounding going on…at least spiritually, and if the old man is drowned in the waters of baptism, he’s going to try to pull us down with him!  We can take heart, though, and know that we are not alone in our struggles.  The Lord is there.  He has already born the worst of the laundering blows.  He’s taken the real beating for us on the Cross. 

          That is the mystery that St. Joseph and St. Nicodemus, who is also commemorated today having provided the myrrh and spices and helped with the burial as John’s Gospel tells us, that is the mystery that the two saints bear witness to.  By burying Christ they remind us of His death and the destruction of sin.  As Blessed Theophylact shows us, we can in a very positive way, remember that death and imitate St. Joseph “always increasing in virtue, and taking hold of that which is truly good.”  In taking hold of what is good we can then follow the teaching of St. Paul concerning our baptism and conversion to Christ.  We know that we have (or can) died to sin, as Paul writes in Romans, “For he who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

         

          These words of Paul bring us to the second aspect of the life of Christ that is crucial to our life in Christ.  This is the witness of the Myrrh-bearing women.  With them, we are to bear witness to the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and be the bearers of the glad tidings to others.  How can we do this?  If we are witnesses to Christ’s death and burial by the death and burial of our Old man in our baptism, then by rising with Him, we become witnesses of His resurrection and proclaim it to the world.  There is perhaps no greater sermon or lesson taught than a life that has been changed for the better.

          If we have put off the old man, if our old man, our old way of being, is dead, then what is left for us but to put on the new man, who is the image and likeness of Christ….who is Christ Himself.  We are to say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who lives but Christ in me.”  How do we do this?  St. Paul gives us a good description in Ephesians:

…put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness…… And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. 5 1 Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

          The Myrrh-Bearing women were sent to tell the Apostles that the Lord had risen from the tomb, and we are sent to proclaim the same thing to those around us. Back then the women could lead others to an empty tomb.  Today we can lead them to our hearts full of love.

           It is from the Myrrh-bearing women and St. Joseph and Nicodemus that we learn that we today must also bear witness to Christ’s death and that we participate in it with our own suffering.  We, in our suffering in life, are called to bear our crosses, whatever they may be: illness, death, depression, sorrow, financial loss, fasting, prayer and vigil…but more importantly we are called to bear witness to the Resurrection and the Paschal Joy.  Whatever our external circumstances may be, we are called to carry within us a Joy that no one and no situation can take away from us.  Sometimes this will be hard work because we will have to crucify our own wills and desires and pride in order to conform ourselves to the will of the Lord.   If we can do this, with God’s help, we will also rise with Christ as well and that will be the greatest witness to His resurrection.  And the Myrrh-bearing women’s cry of Joy becomes our cry:  Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen! 

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 


© 2010 Fr. Philip Kontos