Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Holy Myrrh-Bearers

On the second Sunday after Easter, the Byzantine Churches continue to celebrate the mystery of the Resurrection, this time focusing on the holy myrrh-bearers. We usually speak of the “myrrh-bearing women,” but the Gospel for the day begins with the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea, and we know from the Gospel of John that Nicodemus also assisted in his burial, so there are a couple “myrrh-bearing men” as well. In fact, we learn from John that Nicodemus did something the women couldn’t have done: hauled “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds’ weight” (19:39). A hundred pounds! That would have been enough to cover the body of Jesus a foot thick! Even if this measure is not quite accurate, it makes it clear that Jesus was worth the best (and the most) which human love could offer to care for Him.

This love is what compelled the women to take a great risk in going to the tomb before dawn on Sunday. It was guarded by soldiers as well as by a huge stone. They could have been arrested as suspects in attempted grave robbery, which is what the authorities feared Jesus’ disciples would do. But the women were not to be deterred. As a mother’s love for her children is fierce as that of a lioness or she-bear, the love of these women for their Lord could not be restrained. To anyone who would get in their way, they were as formidable as a bunch of babas with umbrellas or rolling-pins!

But they had nothing to fear. God had honored their faith and love in advance and had taken care of everything. He shook the very earth and sent his angel like a flash of lightning to roll away the stone and to send the guards blindly sprawling. Thus the holy women became the first to receive the glad tidings of the resurrection of Christ.

There are a few lessons we can draw from this mystery. First, let nothing deter or discourage or intimidate you in your search for Christ. Let your love for Him be such that you will persevere until you find and embrace Him, come hell or high water or soldiers or boulders. You will see how He will reward such tender love and dogged endurance. Second, don’t come empty-handed. Perhaps the women didn’t know about the hundred pounds, so they brought their own oils and spices anyway. There was so little, really, that they could do for Him at that point, and they had no idea how wholly unnecessary burial spices actually were for the Risen One. But again, God honored their intentions and efforts. We have little to offer the Lord, and what we have to offer He probably doesn’t need—but He wants us to give everything, however little it may seem in itself. So we come to Him bringing the sweet myrrh of our love for Him and our trust in Him. We may not have a hundred pounds’ weight of good works to offer, but if we bring what is most precious and intimate from the depths of our hearts, He will receive us with joy and blessing.

Finally, as one author mentioned, we ought not to neglect the earthquake. That is a symbol, not only of the radical upheaval of the netherworld, and of the utterly earth-shaking revelation of the Resurrection, but it is also a symbol of what we have to undergo as well. Our encounter with the Risen Lord must be like a spiritual earthquake; we have to be wholly shaken and re-made. To enter into the mystery of the living God is not merely to make a few minor adjustments here and there to our perspectives or behavior. It requires an earthquake of biblical proportions!

Let us not allow these Easter days to pass without inviting the Risen One to send that lightning flash of an angel to roll away the heavy stone from our souls, to cause an inner earthquake that makes our old bad habits fall away like those stunned and hamstrung cemetery sentinels. May we come to Him like the holy myrrh-bearers, offering love and receiving Love in return. And let us continue to proclaim, with our lips and our lives, that Christ is risen!