Thoughts on the 3rd Sunday of Pascha

The Holy Myrhhbearers

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"

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

Christ is risen!

Today is the third Sunday after Pascha, and it is the Sunday of the myrrh-bearing women. And it is quite an interesting reading which we have because these women and these men, Joseph of Arimathaea, who is mentioned today, and also Nicodemus [1] , who is not mentioned in this gospel (but is mentioned in St. John's gospel), who acted with great love, but also in great ignorance. They were trying to do something that they were not going to be able to accomplish. These women wanted to anoint the Lord with myrrh, and Joseph and Nicodemus had prepared the Lord's body so carefully, wrapping it in clean, fine linen. Myrrh and aloes had been applied, according to the custom of the Jews. They carefully placed our Lord's body in a tomb that had been hewn out of a rock, which was Joseph's [2] . All this they did in ignorance. They acted without full knowledge, but with great desire and with great love.

There is a lesson for us. Pascha is God making man able to know God. This is really what Pascha is. It is not an event only; it is a fundamental change in human nature. The God-man becoming incarnate made us able to live. He accomplished our salvation by His death and His resurrection, and basically all of the period from Pascha to Pentecost we think about how He enlightens us and the practical ramifications of what Pascha means for the soul. In essence, it means enlightenment. It means to know God. But to know God you have to be able to live like God, and you must live in virtue before you have full enlightenment.

These women and these two men, Joseph and Nicodemus, acted with great love for our Savior, but in ignorance. The women came to anoint a body, and there was no body to anoint, Joseph and Nicodemus prepared so carefully a dead man, who was already alive, and in Hades, and in only a few hours would show Himself as resurrected. So they acted in ignorance. And there is a lesson for us because we don't know the whole story. We don't know very much, in fact, and we are ignorant of many things. We are ignorant even of what God wants to give to us. Part of that is our own fault because too few of us read the Scriptures very carefully or because we are wrapped up in worldly things and don't really think of holy things very much. If you don't think of holy things, you're not going to master them, you know. I wish some people knew about the Bible as well as they knew about a 56 Chevy manual. Some people understand about things like that better than they understand the Gospel. We poor Christians are too willfully ignorant, because of our worldly choices and misdirected priorities.

Much of our ignorance is really because we are not able to assimilate all that God has give to us. But that should not stop us. These women came to the tomb early in the morning. The early hour is mentioned because to get up early is a difficult thing. It shows that the first thing on their mind was Christ. As soon as they could go and anoint the body, according to the Jewish law, they did, and they brought myrrh and ointments. These myrrh and ointments signify bringing to Christ our good works, bringing to Christ our desire to live as He has shown us to live. They didn't come to Him empty-handed, as we unfortunately so often do. They came to Him bearing what they could, giving what they could . Even though it was the wrong gift, God received it because it was out of love that they bore this gift.

Myrrh also has an interesting property. It is a desiccant, and will dry out things and preserve them, and it's very sweet smelling. So let us dry out that which is wet in us, the passions. Let us dry it out with the heat of the Holy Spirit, and let us make ourselves sweet as myrrh smells sweet, and the ointment smells sweet.

Now the women went to a tomb that was hewn out of a rock. St Luke had said that never had a man been laid in it. It was a new tomb, unused, undefiled, and to hew a tomb out of a rock takes great work. It is very, very difficult, especially in that age with that technology. This tomb is the place where we would put Christ. The rock removed represents work we must do to our soul. We must hew out a place for Christ. This involves effort; this involves desire, toil. I've said it before and I'll say it a thousand times again if God gives me breath. I believe the greatest heresy ever in the history of man is that salvation can be garnered without labor. This idea that only faith is needed, and not works. This is the greatest of the heresies. We must not subscribe to it. We must hew the tomb out of the rock. We must make a place for Christ to be, for Him to abide.

Now the women, when they were walking to the tomb, they were talking amongst themselves, saying, "Who's going to roll away the stone?" They were afraid, you know, for to do such a thing was to mark them for death. And also they were frail women. How were they going to roll away a great stone that takes a great many men to roll in front of the tomb? Well, if we will go to the tomb with our ointments, our stone will be rolled away, too. And what is that stone? That stone is what covers up the heart and makes us unable to see, or even sometimes to feel God, to become like Him. We have a stone in front of our hearts many times. God will roll it away. The angel is all-powerful, and he moved the stone with no effort at all. The women were not able to do it, and neither are we, although we are required to make some effort to do so.

I'm struck again and again when I read this passage: the women were walking to the tomb, and they had no way to roll away the stone, and they had no clue how it was going to happen, and they went despite all this! This stone is the things that assail us, our sins and our passions, which each one of us can mention, only in our heart of hearts, I'm sure. Some things we can't even mention aloud when we are the only one in the room. There are sins and passions that assail us. We cannot gain ascendancy over them. These sins, these difficulties, this jealousy, this anger, this lust, this laziness, this feeling of despondency, this feeling of worthlessness, these wicked habits that seem to take us over, despite our best intentions. I could name a dozen or two dozen other sins. These things are a large stone, in front of our tomb, the place where we want to put Christ.

God will roll it away, but we must go to this tomb. We must not say, "I don't know how it's going to be taken care of, and therefore, I'm not going to go." The women didn't do that. What they did, I want to impress upon you, brothers and sisters, was completely unrealistic. There was no reason for them to think that the tomb would be open, but they went. They didn't even think about it. They were outside of themselves. Love does that. Love for Christ makes us struggle even though there is a stone over our hearts, and we don't know how this stone will be moved. But we go anyway. We fast anyway, we come to the church anyway, we confess anyway. We say our prayers and force ourselves to pray in the morning and in the evening. We force ourselves to do things that are righteous, and the things that we are not able to change, that is, that big stone, God will move. This is only if we go to the tomb, only if we struggle.

These women didn't understand that they were going to anoint the God-man Who was risen from the dead. Their knowledge wasn't perfect, but their love was perfect, and because of their love, God enlightened them. It took quite some effort. They didn't even understand the first time when the angel spoke to them, and they trembled and were afraid and they forgot the command and they didn't tell the apostles the first time [3]. But they went back another time, and then they saw the risen Lord! And the apostles were the same way. They couldn't believe it the first time. The only one who believed with the first evidence was John [4] . Everyone else couldn't believe. It was too terrible, too wonderful for them, too outside of their understanding. God enlightened them, stepwise, a little bit at a time. This is what He does with us, but only if we make a great effort in our lives.

Christianity is very simple. The light of Christ illumines all men. We walk in this light, while there is the light, as the Savior says [5], and as we walk in this light, God gives us more light, more to see, more to spur us on. And we increase in knowledge and in virtue. It is impossible for a man to increase in knowledge without increasing in virtue or vice-versa, because the two are linked. The two are two sides of the same coin. To know Christ is to become like Him.

Now you and I, we are poor ones. We know very little. We don't know how to pray the prayer of the heart. We don't know how to cease jealousy when someone gains some position that we wanted. We don't know how to return goodness for evil. When someone rails against us, in our heart we tremble with ill feeling. These are the stones that we cannot turn away. We need help for these stones. And as a pastor, my prayer for you, my plea to God, is that all of you would believe in the resurrection and believe that these things that are assailing you will be removed. I pray that you will not fall into despondency, and look at the size of the stone and not believe that it cannot be changed, because then you will fall into disbelief and basically atheism and you won't be believers in the resurrection, nor in He Who was resurrected. And if you do not believe in the resurrection, that stone will stay there, in front of the tomb, and you will remain unenlightened, and basically, unchanged.

See how marvelous the scriptures are? In a few short words they sum up the whole of the Christian life. We struggle to follow Christ in the light that He has given. Some of us may have a little more light than others at this point in our life. We struggle, enabled by the light we've been given, and more light comes. And the things that we believed impossible, they are possible. All things are possible with God, but I tell you, it is not possible to be saved unless you struggle. God will only save those who have desire. He'll save many who had desire and didn't do a very good job of it. He'll save many who sinned grievously but desired to change [6] . But He will not save those who did not struggle to change, and who had the audacity to gaze into the empty tomb, and to still believe that the stone in front in their tomb could not be moved. We must believe the stone can be, indeed, WILL BE moved.

We must live this, and the key is in living virtuously. There's no replacement for it, because if we live virtuously, not only will God enlighten us more, we will also gain confidence. You know, some of you are still children, but those of us who were children, remember when you did something bad, and your mother or father or aunt or uncle didn't know about it when they came into the room? You know your feeling, that feeling of great guilt. But when you were doing something right -- I assume when we were kids we did something right! -- when you were doing things right you felt good when they came into the room. You felt at peace. Our virtues, small though they may be, will gain us confidence that God will change those things that we cannot change yet.

Believe this, brothers and sisters. Take your myrrh and your aloes and your ointment, no matter how small the flask is, take it to the tomb. Believe that the stone will be rolled away. Just continue to go to the tomb. That is our entire life, that trek to the tomb. And if you believe it, God will remove the stone, but only if you live according to the light. May God help you to live in the light of the resurrection, to live with virtue, and to believe, to believe the stone will be removed. Christ will have a place to abide in you, and you will be full of joy. May God help you in this. Christ is risen!

The Gospel

Mark 15:43-47

Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. {44} And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. {45} And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. {46} And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. {47} And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid. {16:1} And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. {2} And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. {3} And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? {4} And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. {5} And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. {6} And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. {7} But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. {8} And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid."

[1] (John 19:38-39) "And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. {39} And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight."

[2] (Luke 23:50-54) "And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just: {51} (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. {52} This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. {53} And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. {54} And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on."

[3] Some of the Fathers say in regards to this passage: "And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid." (Mark 16:8), that the women's silence refers to the enemies of Christ, and strangers, and they did immediately go to the apostles with the news they had been commissioned to tell.

[4] (John 20:3-8) "Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. {4} So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. {5} And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. {6} Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, {7} And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. {8} Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed."

[5] (John 12:35-36) "Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. {36} While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light..."

[6] The examples in the scriptures of this important truth are numerous. Cf. (as but one example) (Mat 21:28-31) "But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. {29} He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. {30} And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. {31} Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you."

Redeeming the Time

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