33 - The Myrrh-bearing Women, April 18, 2010

Acts 6:1-7

Mark 15:43-16:8

St Mark takes care in this morning’s Gospel to emphasize that Jesus was dead. The centurion verifies that Jesus is dead. Then, Pilate gives to Joseph the corpse. In Greek, this is a strong word that emphasizes that the body was absolutely dead. So, the myrrh-bearing women came to the tomb quite expecting to find a corpse. This is a detail that speaks to the meaning of Jesus’ Resurrection. There are two aspects of Christ’s resurrection that make it so meaningful, which I want to point out this morning; and these two aspects actually boil down to one.

As I have said, the world is no stranger to resurrection. Osiris, Dionysius, Marduk, the Green Man – all die and rise again. These gods are religious symbols of the world-soul and its life energy that makes things to live and revitalizes nature every spring after it has died in the winter or in the dry season. These gods express the religious belief that the world has a soul, an invisible essence that is always the same beneath the changes that bodies undergo as they move through space-time. The soul is believed to be an immaterial, invisible essence which is inherently immortal or eternal and therefore naturally divine, without beginning and without an end. It is an effluence of the One breathed out into matter, a divine spark that has somehow broken off of the One and has fallen into a material body from which it seeks escape as it makes its long migration back to the One whence it came.

This life energy of the world-soul is in itself impersonal, as is the One whence it originates, and in its descent into the world of change from the timeless world of the divine it produces a circle of life in which the life-energy is ceaselessly flowing through matter, raising individuals up into material existence from the divine womb of the Great Mother Goddess, and then returning to her womb in death as the individuals dissolve back into the life energy of the world-soul. Death, then, is the central stage, the matrix, in this never-ending circle of life that is always coming from and returning to the dust of the ground – i.e., death.

That the soul is alive in itself, and the view of death as a natural stage in the circle of life: these are the two aspects I wanted to set before you this morning that are the backdrop against which to understand the theological meaning of the Resurrection of Christ.

St Mark takes care to make sure we fully understand that as man, Jesus was dead. There was no life in His body. But His soul, too, was dead. Listen to this silent prayer that the priest prays at the Great Entrance when he brings the holy gifts to the altar: “In the tomb with the body, in hell with the soul, in Paradise with the thief, on the throne with the Father and the Holy Spirit wast Thou O boundless Christ filling all things.” The prayer is saying that even Jesus’ soul was dead because it was separated from His body. It was in hell, the place of the dead, while His body was in the tomb. The theology that gives meaning to this prayer is that Jesus was dead in soul and in body; and yet He was not separated from either His soul or His body. His soul and body were separated from each other in death, yet they were not separated from Jesus in His divine Person, in His personal identity, in the Who that He was as the Word of God, the Son of the Father. This tells us that the living energy waiting to give life to Jesus’ body that lay in the tomb was not His soul, because His soul was dead in hell. It was the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son. The vital principle of Jesus’ humanity, then, was not and never was the human soul but the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father. (It is because the Holy Spirit was the vital principle of Jesus’ humanity that Jesus’ death was voluntary, and I think we could say, it is what made His death Spiritual and life-creating.)

This tells us that because we have separated ourselves from God by our sins, we are dead even in our soul whether we are in the body in this life or separated from the body in death. For goodness’ sake; we don’t need the Gospel to tell us this. We can see for ourselves that the soul is not divine. For, while it is making our bodies “to live”, as we have been led to understand “living”, it is powerless to keep our bodies from sickness and maladies of all kinds, until finally it leaves the body behind as a corpse in the tomb. Even while it is joined to the body, making it “to live”, the soul itself is hardly immune to psychological maladies and dysfunctions of all kinds. How is it intelligent, how is it not neurotic to believe, on the basis of this evidence right in front of us, that our soul would fare any better when it is separated from the body, that it would not be neurotic or even psychotic even when liberated from the body, when even in the body it can fall so easily into psychoses and neurosis and dysfunctions of all kinds?

Here, then, is the first point I want to make from all of this. The Gospel proclaims that there is another life that is higher than the soul. It is the life of the Holy Spirit that, in fact, gives life to the soul. The soul, that is to say, is not living in itself; its vital principle is death because it is always circling back to death. The soul is living only when it is in union with the Holy Spirit of God.

The world knows nothing about the Holy Spirit proclaimed by the Gospel, because the world knows nothing about the God of the Bible. The religious wisdom of the world wants to identify the biblical God with the One from which the religions and philosophies of the world say we originate; and this One the religions and philosophies of the world identify with the deepest essence of our own soul. Even in its highest form, the religions of the world will tell you that God is what you are in your most essential nature: “That art thou!” is what you will be told by the religious sages of the world if you ask them: So now, just what is God? “That – God – art thou!”

The Gospel proclaims to the world the God unknown to the world, the “unknown God” who is not of the world even in its deepest essence. He is not what thou art; for He is the Creator of all things, having brought forth the world and everything in it through His Word from nothing, even as He has now through His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, destroyed the power of death by the Savior’s voluntary death on the Cross and bestowed life upon those in the tombs.

This is the second point I want to make from all this. By His resurrection from the dead, Christ has raised us into the Life of the Spirit that does not circle back to the dust of the ground. In Christ, death has been destroyed, once and for all. The matrix, that is to say, of the Life of the Holy Spirit to which we are raised up in Christ is not death but the womb of the Ever-Virgin Mary Theotokos, through whom we are born from above and united to Her Son and our God in the bosom of the Father. Having died in our baptism in a death like His, we are united in a resurrection like His. When we die in union with Christ, we return to the dust of the ground once and for all, and that is to put death to death once and for all; it is to put the old Adam in us to death once and for all; it is to be raised up into the life of the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead once and for all, in whom we are granted by God’s grace to ascend without end from glory to glory.

These two points that I am making this morning: viz., that there is a higher life than that of the soul, which in itself is not living but dead; and, that this higher life is centered not in death but in the death of Christ that has destroyed death once and for all – and so it is centered on the Life of God’s Holy Spirit – boil down to this one point: the Gospel’s proclamation that Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life, proclaims the Holy Spirit of God who heals us in soul and body. I.e., the Gospel proclaims a Holy Spirit who gives the life of God to soul and body: a Holy Spirit who in Christ does not leave the body behind as a corpse, but makes even the body to live together with the soul. This Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son is the great treasure hiding in the field of the world and in the field of our soul. And it is to acquire this Holy Spirit that the Church is now preparing us as we make our way to the Great Feast of Pentecost in the joy of Christ’s Resurrection. Amen.