|34 - Myrrhbearing Women, May 8, 2011|
Mark 15:43 – 16:8
Last Sunday, St Thomas Sunday, we read in the Gospel how the disciples were gathered in the Upper Room on the eighth day – i.e. Sunday, the first and eighth day of the week – and Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be unto all.” This is easily discerned as a description of the Holy Eucharist of Christ’s Holy Church. Christ breathes on the disciples and they receive the Holy Spirit and the power to forgive sins; i.e., they receive the power of sons of God, the power of divine life, and the power to give life in the Name of Jesus Christ. The event recalls the 2nd chapter of Genesis when God breathes on Adam and he becomes a living soul. It evokes the description of Pentecost given in the Acts of the Apostles, when the Spirit descends on the disciples gathered in the Upper Room and flames of fire appear above their heads, and they begin to proclaim the Word of God in all the languages of the people. This, too, is an image of creation, or of a re-creation of the world. It recalls the opening verses of Genesis when the Holy Spirit is brooding over the face of the waters as God speaks and by His Word brings the world into being, the same Word that the holy disciples proclaim on Pentecost.
This re-creation of the world from out of the death of God the Word incarnate and raising it up into the life of the Holy Spirit in the glory of Christ’s Holy Resurrection is the mystery of the Church. And, the image of the disciples gathered on the eighth day in the Upper Room is an image of Christ’s Holy Church today. Wherever Christ’s disciples gather on Sunday, whether it be in a humble garage or a magnificent cathedral, is united to the Upper Room where the disciples were gathered on the eighth day of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. And there, in the holy assembly, Jesus comes and stands in our midst, proclaiming to us, “Peace be unto all!” and breathing on us the gift of His Holy Spirit, in the waters of our baptism, in the sacred oil of Holy Chrism, in the holy gifts of Holy Eucharist; and through the gift of His Holy Spirit, He raises His disciples from the earth and transforms them from children of flesh and blood born of the earth into children of the Spirit born from above.
This proclamation of the re-creation of man and the world in the mystery of Christ’s Holy Resurrection is also found in this morning’s Gospel. The myrrh-bearing women come to the tomb, believing they are coming to anoint the corpse of a dead man, wondering as they draw near how they will move the stone away from the mouth of the tomb so that they can enter it to anoint the dead Jesus. And lo, when they draw near, they see the stone rolled away; just as you come to the Church and see the royal doors opening and the curtains being drawn.
They see angels clothed in white proclaiming that Christ is risen, just as you come to the Church and see the priest clothed in white proclaiming to you that Christ is risen. They look into the tomb, and they see the grave clothes folded and lying neatly off to the side. They look further and see that there is no body in the tomb. It is not there. And to account for the puzzle, they have only the word of the angel to help them: “He is risen as He said!”
Can you see, beloved faithful, how every Sunday morning when you come to the Church you are like the myrrh-bearing women coming to the tomb. That means that the Church is the tomb of Christ’s holy death. Look around, therefore, and gaze on the tomb of Christ. What do you see? Beauty and glory all around you in the holy icons, the vestments of the clergy, the candles glowing with a radiant light silently proclaiming a heavenly joy. What do you hear? Words of beauty combining with liturgical movements of a stately majesty to proclaim the Good News of the angel: “Christ is risen as He said!” Look around, listen and take in what you see and hear here in the Church, and behold the tomb of Christ! Behold what has become of the stench, the sorrow, the terror of death! The tomb has been transformed into a bridal chamber. Death has been destroyed, and like gates of bronze, its iron bars have been shattered. Its stench has been washed clean and the corpse of our own body and soul in which we were dead in our sins and trespasses has been breathed on by the crucified and risen Christ, infusing us with the fragrant breath of the Holy Spirit, making us alive in the Holy Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Death’s dark terror has vanished in the brilliance of uncreated heavenly light that is life, not earthly, worldly life, we must understand, born from the biological fluids of man and woman and that is always cycling back to the dust of the ground in the bitterness and grief of death, but heavenly life that proceeds from God the Father; indeed, the very life of God that now soaks with the living waters of the Holy Spirit the soul and body of every man, woman and child who loves Christ and who has received Him in faith and in love, a life that does not cycle back to the dust of the ground but a life that ascends unceasingly from glory to glory, from one degree of intimacy in love to an ever deeper intimacy of love in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and in the fellowship and the communion of the Holy Spirit.
This Divine Liturgy we serve this morning is the same Divine Liturgy served in that Upper Room where the holy disciples were gathered with St Thomas, when the risen Lord Jesus Christ came and stood in their midst and said: “Peace be to you!” and breathed on them His Holy Spirit. Coming to the Church this morning, you came with the myrrh-bearing women to the tomb of Christ and when you crossed the threshold of those doors behind you and entered into the nave, you entered into the mystery of Christ’s tomb made into the holy Bridal Chamber where children born of flesh and blood become children of God, born from above by receiving the gift of Christ’s Holy Spirit. It is not a different Liturgy. And it is not the Divine Liturgy served many, many times. It is one Divine Liturgy, the very same Divine Liturgy, in all its fullness, that we enter into many, many times as we again and again come out of our weekly life in this world of space and time to enter again and again into the Divine Liturgy of Heaven that through the mystery of Christ’s death, has been sown in the field of time and in the mystery of His Holy Resurrection is growing in time like the grain of wheat into the resurrected body of the saints in the glorious mystery of the crucified and risen Christ who by His death has destroyed death and to all those in the tombs has given life.
Understand, you are not standing this morning in an ordinary building on the corner of 38th and 54th. You are standing in the same mystery in which St Thomas and the other holy disciples stood; you have drawn near to the same mystery of the tomb to which the myrrh-bearing women drew near. You have come and having entered the Church, the uncreated light of Christ’s Holy Resurrection is shining all around you. The Kingdom of Heaven is among you here and now, for the crucified and risen Christ Himself is in our midst even now, proclaiming Peace to all of us, and breathing on all of us the gift of His Holy Spirit, calling us to Himself in the word of His holy angel: “He is risen as He said!” And, in the risen Christ, the holy apostles are proclaiming to us also this morning: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands have handled, the Word of Life, what we have seen and what we have heard, this we proclaim to you, that you might have fellowship with us and that our joy might be made complete; for, our fellowship, our communion is with God the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
Beloved faithful, hear the proclamation of the Gospel. It answers the question you may be asking yourselves right now: where is the proof of the resurrection? I see no body, and I see no risen Christ. How can you say that Christ has come and is standing in our midst, proclaiming peace to us and breathing on us His Holy Spirit?
Brothers and sisters, the word that the preachers of the Church proclaim is not their own word. It is the word of the myrrh-bearing women to the apostles, and of the apostles to St Thomas: “We have seen the Lord!” It is the word of St Peter the apostle. “We do not proclaim to you cunningly devised myths; for we were eyewitnesses of His glory on the Holy Mountain.” It is the word of St John the theologian, whom we commemorate today: “What we have seen and heard and handled with our hands we proclaim to you.” The Gospel of Christ’s Holy Church, the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection of the dead, and the glorious joy that is born of that proclamation, is not a cleverly devised myth or a religious philosophy dreamed up by a particular school of thought. It is the eyewitness account of those who saw with their eyes and heard with their ears and felt with their hands the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. And, they are telling us how we ourselves can come to see the risen Christ: “Hear the Word of God and keep it.” Purify your senses. Take up your cross, deny yourself and begin to live for Christ. Become students of His holy commandments; practice His precepts and walk in the way of His statutes, “and we shall see Christ!” the Church sings, proclaiming to us the Good News of Christ’s Holy Resurrection.
Like the myrrh-bearing women, prepare ointments and spices. Prepare your hearts with prayer, your minds by listening with all diligence to hear the words of Holy Scripture and the doctrines of Christ’s Holy Church and to keep them, to do them, to practice them; and in the fear of God, with faith and love, come to the Church on the eighth day, early on Sunday morning, as to the tomb of Christ. And, in the mystery of Christ’s Holy Cross, receive His Holy Spirit and be re-created in the joy of His Holy and Glorious Resurrection.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Christ is risen! Most Holy Theotokos, save us!