|32 Myrrhbearing Women - April 22, 2007|
Mark 15:43 – 16:8
I’ve observed how young ladies seem to love wearing their boy friend’s jacket or sweatshirt. Of course, the garment is too big for them, but the pleased, satisfied look on their face tells you that to them it feels wonderful and fits just as it should. …..
This is the third Sunday of Pascha. Note that there are eight Sundays in Pascha. We do not leave Pascha until the Ascension of Our Lord, when, having united heaven to earth by his Incarnation, he unites earth to heaven in his holy resurrection. Pascha is then finally consummated at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples in the Upper Room and the Church is raised up and fashioned from the dust of the earth and infused with the Spiritual Life of God as the incarnation of the Christ’s crucified and risen body established in the world until the end of time. The gates of hell have no power over her. The darkness cannot grasp her. These eight Sundays of Pascha are like the blossoming of that precious rose to whom the Virgin gave birth in the cave, as the Church sings out on the feast of Christmas. In all the Scripture lessons and hymnody of the Church, and in the holy icons of her liturgical and sacramental worship, these eight weeks of Pascha are the unfolding of the precious rose’s petals, opening up to us the mystery of Christ that is contained in the cave of Bethlehem, in the waters of the Jordan, and in the tomb of Pascha.
On this the third Sunday of Pascha, the Church turns our eyes to that part of the Paschal Icon which shows the myrrh-bearing women drawing near the tomb of Christ, fully believing they are coming to pay their respects to a corpse. They fully expect to find the tomb sealed by a stone. Instead, they draw near to discover the soldiers are gone and the stone has been rolled away from the tomb. They are greeted by an angel who says to them: “Why do you seek among the dead as a man the one who is everlasting light? Behold the clothes in the grave. Go and proclaim to the world. The Lord is risen. He has slain death, because he is the Son of God, saving the race of men.”
Behold the clothes in the grave. If his clothes are in the grave, what is the risen Lord wearing?
God fashions Adam from the dust of the ground. When God breathes into him the Spirit of life, Adam becomes a living soul. Adam was fashioned as body and soul; but until God breathed into him the Spirit of life he lived only the life of the soul which is of the earth; the soul is of the creation and in its own essence it cannot sustain the body made from the dust of the ground in the eternity of the Holy Trinity. Not until his soul and body receive the breath of God, the Holy Spirit of God, does man become a living soul, i.e., living in God. Understanding the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden spiritually or theologically, the liturgical texts of the Church speak of Adam and Eve being clothed with the garment of immortality. When in the Garden, man falls and disobeys the command of God, before ever Adam and Eve even draw near the Tree of Life to partake of its fruit, the Spirit is grieved and departs from them. Man is stripped of the garment of immortality. In its place, he fashions for himself garments of fig leaves. These are garments of shame and death and the despair of loneliness. Man sinks into the darkness of the void, which in the theological vision of the Church is the absence of God, and becomes a slave of the devil, who in the words of the Lord is a liar and a murderer from the beginning.
Already at Christmas, with the coming of God the Word as a little babe, the Church sees the cave of Bethlehem as the opening onto Eden; the flaming sword turns back, the cherubim withdraw from the Tree of Life, and the race of men are able to partake of the delight of Paradise from which we were cast out because of our disobedience. The Cross of Christ is the Tree of Life sprung up in the midst of the earth. It carries the Most High as a cluster of grapes full of life. Partaking of it, we enjoy the immortal fruit of Eden. In the shade of its boundless light, the whole world is filled with joy.
When we come to the baptismal font, we are like the myrrh-bearing women drawing near to the tomb. But as we draw near, we are stripped of our garments as was the Lord of glory when he was about to be crucified. These are the garments woven from the fig leaves of shame and death. At the font, we are naked, as was Christ on the Cross. Behold the clothes in the grave. With what are we to be clothed?
Our bodies are anointed with oil as Christ’s body was anointed with myrrh; we are washed in the baptismal waters as Christ’s body was washed in the waters of the Jordan and by the tears of St Mary Magdalene. We are immersed in the waters of the font. In the spiritual depths of the baptismal font, we enter the tomb of Christ and we are put to death in a death like his. In the depths of the baptismal waters, the stone is rolled away. Our heart is exposed, and into our heart the Holy Spirit plants the Seed of the Word of the Father. The Church sings of Christ coming forth from the tomb as a Bridegroom in procession. In the likeness of his resurrection, we are raised out of the waters. We come forth from the baptismal font in the likeness of Christ – but also in the likeness of the myrrh-bearing women when they fled the tomb at the report of the angel, terrified.
Behold the clothes in the grave. With what is the risen Christ clothed? With what is the newly-baptized in Christ clothed? Were the myrrh-bearing women clothed any differently when they fled the tomb?
The Christ who comes forth from the tomb as a Bridegroom in procession is the God who is clothed with honor and majesty, who covers himself with light as with a garment. What light? It is the Light with which the Christ was clothed on Mt Tabor before his entry into Jerusalem, when “he was transfigured before them; and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” It is the Light of the world that illumines everyone who comes into the world. What is this world? The holy fathers tell us it is the world of God’s Heavenly Kingdom, the world as it was first created by God, the world that was illumined on the first day of creation by the Word of God when he said: “’Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
We are raised from the font and like a young lady who puts on the shirt of her boyfriend, we are immediately clothed with the robe of light. This is the robe that belongs to Christ. No doubt, it is much too big for us, but it feels just right, much better than the garments of fig leaves. I say it is with this robe of light that the myrrh-bearing women were clothed when they fled the tomb. It can be seen in the holy dread that comes upon them at the announcement of the angel.
After putting on Christ and his robe of light, we are anointed with the chrism and we take on the fragrance of that precious rose born in the cave of the Virgin, the Heavenly Bridegroom who strides forth from the tomb as a Bridegroom in procession.
In the mystery of holy baptism, our bodies are washed and cleansed in the Spirit of Christ God. We put on Christ and we are born again, born from above, born not of the blood of men nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man but of the blood and the will of God. Then, we are brought to the steps of the ambo as to the steps leading into the Kingdom of Heaven. The fruit of the Tree of Life comes down to us and gives himself to us as our food. Having taken up our cross and died with Christ, we are raised up in his holy resurrection and given to partake of the medicine of immortality in the Upper Room on the other side of the tomb. We are grafted into Him who is the true vine; we are made physically to be members of his body, the Church; and his crucified and risen body is incorporated into our body. We are established in the breath of God. It is no longer the soul of the world that is our life but Christ’s Holy Spirit who now dwells in us, transfiguring our body and soul into a living temple of God. We become his garment and he becomes our garment. He has put on our bodies of corruption and death so that we may put on his garment of resurrection and light. He has brought us out of Egypt through the Red Sea. In our robe of light, we stand on the far shore. The wilderness of this life stretches before us – but in Christ, the wilderness has been made to rejoice and to blossom like the rose.
Beyond the wilderness lies the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet, the Kingdom of Heaven comes to us at every Divine Liturgy. It calls to us in the Holy Scriptures, in the doctrines of the Church which all bear witness to Christ, in the light that radiates from the lives of the saints, in the fragrance that fills the Church with the joy of God’s ineffable Goodness and the ineffable sweetness of his holy resurrection. Even before we have crossed the wilderness of this life and come to its end in our own tomb, Christ himself comes to us again and again as the Good Samaritan. He brings to us the mysteries of his bride, his body, the Church. By the hand of his priests, he anoints us with the oil of gladness and gives us his Heavenly Spirit to drink as living wine..
Behold the clothes in the grave. As we leave the font and return into Galilee to continue our sojourn through this worldly life, we discover no doubt to our disappointment that the fig leaves of our old garments still cling to us; we still find in ourselves a hankering for the fruit of the tree of good and evil. Take heart from the lesson of St Paul: “I am carnal, sold under sin. Sin dwells in me; for I know that in my flesh nothing good dwells. To will is present with me but how to perform what is good I do not find. I delight in the law of God according to the inward man, but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. Oh who shall deliver me from this body of death! I thank God – [I am delivered] through Jesus Christ our Lord.” When we descended into the baptismal waters, the Word of God the Father in his Holy Spirit descended with us and into our heart just as he descended into hell to loose the bonds of those held captive there. In this natural body he sowed the spiritual body of his holy resurrection. As we turn away in repentance from the lusts of this corruptible body, our desire for the pleasures of the body begins to wither; it begins to die, and our love for the Spirit begins to grow. This is the concrete evidence, the pledge of our future inheritance that shows us that our hope in Christ is not imaginary but substantive, that leads us to know in faith that when this mortal body of ours dies and is placed in the tomb, what will have died is sin, death and corruption, while those who have put on Christ, and who have been putting on Christ throughout their life, will be raised up at the last trumpet changed, and this corruptible will put on incorruption, this mortal will put on immortality, and our tomb will be revealed as the bridal chamber, the font of our resurrection in Christ.
Behold the clothes in the grave. In our baptism, we put on Christ like the young lady putting on the shirt of her boyfriend. The commandments of Christ are a light on the earth. We put on Christ when we practice his commandments. When we bless those who revile us, pray for those who persecute us, when we focus on the beam in our own eye and not the speck in our brother’s eye, when we give our mind to dwell on whatever is noble and good, when we give our tongue to truth and to words that are of good report, when we give our hands and feet to deeds of kindness and charity, we are walking in that light with which he clothes himself as with a garment, the light of his holy resurrection. Then, our whole life on this earth becomes a descent into the baptismal font as we practice every day dying to the deeds of this mortal flesh that we may be raised up in the incorruptible, risen body of Christ; and our life even now begins to take on the character of the Lord’s body that was transfigured on Mt Tabor.
Behold the clothes in the grave. He who clothes himself with light as with a garment is risen as he said. As many as have been baptized have put on Christ. O Lord Jesus Christ who art risen from the dead, glory to Thee! Grant that we who are unworthy may partake of Thee and be counted worthy to enter with Thee into thy everlasting Kingdom.