We welcome this latest reflection by Fr. Jeffrey. We pray that God will turn our sorrow to joy as we wait for this pandemic to end. We hope to grow in our faith and even when things look bad help us Lord to find you. Have mercy on us, prepare our hearts, to receive You in the Eucharist soon…as we reflect on your power and love. Amen
The myrrh-bearing women know where Jesus is buried and they go to the tomb. “You have come to look for Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified,” states the angel who is unexpectedly there. Venerable Fulton Sheen writes that “To an angel, the Resurrection would not be a mystery, but His death would be. For man, His death was not a mystery, but His Resurrection would be.”
The intention of the women is to anoint the body of Jesus; the body of a human, the body of a man. There were those in their number who had children, and who knew the experience of bringing “a man” into this world, namely, childbirth. In fact, Jesus says the reaction of his disciples to his death and resurrection will be like childbirth: “A woman, when she is in labour, hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but when she hath brought forth the child, she (remembers) no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.”
Venerable Sheen describes some in the group this way: “It was to a virgin woman that the birth of the Son of God was announced. It was to a fallen woman that His Resurrection was announced.” In life and in death, Jesus’ body destroyed every stereotype the myrrh-bearing women ever had about a man’s body. With due respect to the likes of Joseph of Arimathea and Simon of Cyrene, Jesus was unlike any man they had ever known. And yet, he was the consummate man, of whom Pilate prophetically announces, “Behold the man!” A soldier witnesses Jesus’ death and exclaims, “This was an innocent man.” The women know he was innocent in more ways than being innocent of a criminal offense.
The myrrh-bearing women hope to enter a tomb. Jesus spoke of such places; physical and metaphorical places: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you are like to whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones, and of all filthiness.”
Filthiness. That is a word powerful enough to make her heart race at the thought of where she was in her life before Jesus forgave her sins. He healed her, and liberated her, as one emerging from a tomb of death. “Give life to me made dead by sin” as one prayer after Holy Communion states it. When the angel asks, “Why seek the living among the dead,” it would be understandable if some in the group thought he was speaking about them: dead until the experience of Jesus’ life-giving power to restore their former beauty out of the filth of sin.
The intention of the women is to anoint the body of Jesus. They will soon experience their own washing of baptism into his death and prove St. Paul’s insight to be true years before he himself states it, that what matters is being a new creation in Christ. New and fresh as a baby’s breath, they might think. But there is no baby at the tomb, unless that could be the smell of their own breath, the new creation in Christ that they are!
The myrrh-bearing women expect to find the body of Christ, who died “in the flesh” as a famous prayer begins: “In the flesh you fell asleep. As a mere mortal. O King and Lord.” They expect to see the marks of one subjected to the vicious “black medicine” of those trained in the torture of the human body. Instead, they will experience what Jesus meant when he said, “Take, eat, this is my body, which is broken for you for the forgiveness of sins.” The Lamb of God: his broken body; the forgiveness of their sins. It gives them the courage to live in the manner the Church describes women martyrs: “Your lamb, O Jesus, cries out with a loud voice: “You, O my bridegroom, I love…And with you I am crucified and buried in your baptism.”
The women expect to anoint the dead body of a thirty three year old man who had never been married, except in the marriage of death. The tomb is considered a bridal chamber: “Come with lighted candles to meet Christ, Who comes out of the grave like a bridegroom.” There is an incomparable intimacy. They knew the marital phrase, “and the two shall become one flesh.” The bodily death and resurrection of Jesus begins to look incredibly eucharistic.
Dear Faithful, continue to be faithful. As we pray in the Tone 7 Sunday Troparion, “You changed the lamentation of the myrrh-bearers to joy.” We have in The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom an incredible connection to them. The Divine Liturgy is a re-enactment of Isaiah 6, where a seraphim takes a burning coal and touches it to Isaiah’s mouth. As one prayer explains, “You have replaced the burning coal which the angel touched to the lips of the Prophet Isaiah, with your most pure Body, truly removing our wickedness and purifying our sin.” Isaiah then responds to God’s question, “Whom shall I send?” The myrrh-bearing women, too, hear their commissioning: “Go and joyfully announce to the apostles…” It is the second part of what Jesus said about childbirth and his death: “…you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
Christ is Risen!
Father Jeffrey D. Stephaniuk