|32 - Myrrh-bearing Women, Apr 29, 2012|
At the Matins this last week, we heard: “The women rose up early and came to the Lord’s tomb; and, when they beheld there the Angel they trembled in amazement. The tomb became radiant with life; the marvel filled the women with great awe (fear and trembling). Thus, they went to the disciples and proclaimed the rising of the Mighty One. Christ alone despoiled Hades by His strength. All those in corruption He has raised, freeing them from fear of blame and reproach through the Cross’s might.” (Pentecostarion: Matins for Tuesday and Saturday) Here, the Church sets before us the great mystery of Christ’s Holy Pascha and the glorious Good News it proclaims to the world.
“The women came to the Lord’s tomb.” The Lord died! God died. God endured the Cross for us. He died for the life of the world. This doesn’t mean, however, that Christ endured the Cross so that we don’t have to. He commands us, after all, to take up our cross if we want to follow Him into Heaven. Nor does it mean that He died so that we don’t have to. He commands us, after all, to lose our lives for His sake if we want to receive life eternal. We still die, according to the command of God: “You are dust, and to the dust you shall return.”
God died because we die. The mystery of Christ’s death, the death of God, teaches us what death really is and why it is so tragic. We die because of disobedience to God. Our will goes off on its own and rebels against the will of God for us. By this, we have separated ourselves from God. Separation from God is followed by separation from each other. We become estranged from each other, angry, bitter, resentful even toward our close loved ones. Finally, we are separated from ourselves at the bitter hour of death when our soul is separated from our body. All of this is the consequence of sin, of our disobedience to God. This is why sin is death, so that even if we “live”, if we are living in sin, separated from God, living according to our own will and not the will of God, we are dead in our sins and trespasses.
In this life, we are dying because we were born in sins. We are even now returning to the dust. We are living in death. Death is our inevitable end because we live in sin. But, if we want to, we can join the myrrh-bearing women and come with them to the Lord's tomb. We can unite ourselves to Him, as St Paul says, in the likeness of His death. This “likeness of His death” is the confession of our sins, uniting ourselves to Him in baptism; and then, clothed mystically in the robe of light and anointed with the Holy Spirit, taking up the ascetic disciplines of the Church as our cross. In this way we unite ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death; and as we do, we make our way with the myrrh-bearing women to the Chalice at the foot of the ambon as to the Lord's tomb and to the final hour of our death, to dying in Christ; and, as we die in Christ, we receive from the Cup of Life, we partake of Christ’s own body and blood, and we are granted to become one with Him in the likeness of His Holy Resurrection, and our dying, our tomb, becomes radiant with life, the life of His Holy Resurrection.
“The women came to the Lord’s tomb.” There, they saw an angel telling them the tomb was empty; and, they fled in terror and in “ekstasis”, according to St Mark. They were so afraid they were beside themselves in their fear and their bodies shook uncontrollably. All the evangelists testify to the terror and alarm that seized the myrrh-bearing women. St Luke adds that they were afraid and perplexed. St Matthew says that they fled the tomb in fear, but also in exceedingly great joy. Why precisely were they out of their minds – ecstatic – with fear, perplexity, and joy?
In the Matins services for this last week, the Church tells us that the tomb had become “radiant with life; and the marvel filled the women with awe,” i.e., with wonder, fear and trembling. Even before they see the risen Christ Himself they are thrown into a trembling ecstasy of fear, perplexity and joy. Why? Because something had happened to the tomb! To say it was empty doesn’t mean simply that it now has no corpse lying in it, whereas it did before, while the tomb itself remains an ordinary tomb as it was before. It means that the tomb has changed, not just from having a corpse inside to not having a corpse inside, but in that it has become radiant with life! In the tomb of Christ, death has become radiant with life!
“Radiant with life:” with these words, we look at the Gospel again, and we see that the angel sitting there upon the stone isn’t simply there to tell the women that the tomb is empty because Christ is risen from the dead. The presence of the angel signifies the change that has taken place in the tomb itself: it has become radiant with life. The angel is a heavenly presence that now pervades the tomb of Christ. One is reminded how Eusebius described the Holy Sepulcher of Christ in the early fourth century, after it had been uncovered by the Emperor Constantine. He called it “a tomb with a divine presence.” The angel is an angel of the uncreated light and life of God that now “shrouds” the death that is in Christ. The angel is not a fearsome scythe-wielding dark angel of death, shrouded in impenetrable gloom and grief. He is an angel of light, for In the resurrection of Christ, death itself has become radiant with life. The tomb has become the fount of incorruption, the spring of life eternal.
When we unite ourselves to Christ and die to our self-will, when we crucify the flesh and its desires to the Cross of Christ (Gal 3:24) and begin to live not according to the deeds of the body but according to the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead (Rm 8:13), then we are uniting ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death, and our dying in Christ becomes radiant with life, the radiant life of His Holy Resurrection.
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life. We still die. We return to the dust. But when we repent, when we “turn around”, take up our cross and make our way with the myrrh bearing women away from the tombs of the world and toward the Lord’s tomb, what dies is death. What returns to the dust is the old Adam in us with its rebellious self-will and its enmity against God, its fleshly body with its selfish desires and sinful deeds. And, united with the Lord’s tomb, our tomb becomes the font of our resurrection in Christ, the bridal chamber in which we are born again from above as children of God, as sons and daughters of the New Adam and the New Eve, born not of the flesh nor of the blood or the desire of man, but born from above of the Spirit. Our tomb becomes the spring of life eternal. Our death becomes radiant with life, the life of Christ.
This is the Gospel, the Good News that the women, trembling in an ecstasy of fear and joy, proclaimed to the apostles and to the world: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life! In the resurrection of Christ, the tomb has become radiant with life: death has become the spring of life eternal to all those who die in Him out of their love for Him. Glory to Jesus Christ! Christ is risen!