Sermon – Sunday of the Myrrh Bearing Women 2023
Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
April 30, 2023
Christ is risen! Truly He is risen! المسيح قام! حقًا قام!
On the third Sunday of Pascha the Orthodox Church commemorates a number of persons connected with the final events of Jesus’ life who were important witnesses to His Death and Resurrection. These are the Myrrh-bearing women who came to anoint the Body of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea who buried Jesus and Nicodemus who helped him. They are remembered for their faith, courage, and devotion to the Lord. Beginning with this particular Sunday, we begin our reflection upon the details of the events that surrounded our Lord’s Resurrection and the individuals who were among the witnesses to the specific events. The lesson is very intentional in purpose. It causes us to review what we may have missed during Holy Week, but is now viewed from the perspective of the triumph of Christ’s victory over death, in what appeared as a human tragedy.
Today’s Gospel lesson first says something to us about how personal decisions of conviction are made. A good contrast is to recall the words of the Apostle Peter, who was quick to speak, and ended up denying our Lord in the same evening when the sacred Holy Communion was something that he and the other disciples had just received from the hands of the Lord. One would think that the twelve (or what we know ended up being eleven), who where personally called, spending a great deal of personal time with the Lord; who walked and talked with him, would be among those who would not be absent following the death of our Lord. Instead, the scripture indicates that they fled for fear of the authorities.
Today, the Myrrh-bearing women, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are brought to the forefront of today’s commemoration. These women and men were among those “behind the scenes.” In the case of the women, we know that in the first century: women were not very visible. Yet, their service was certainly not among the least. They like Joseph and Nicodemus acted with great faith and courage. And so the first thing we can learn from disciples like the Myrrh-bearing women, Joseph and Nicodemus is a lesson we discovered during the season of Lent: When pride is humbled by faith and love, and stirred by a deep sense of humanity and courage, it becomes selfless service.
Second, to love and care for someone makes a task very personal. And so, it is very important that we be reminded: that a faithful servant of the Lord never understands a labor of love as a task or chore, but a holy ministry. You and I are called in numerous and unique ways to serve God as His fellow ministers. Following the Resurrection we hear in today’s epistle that the church needed helpers: deacons to assist with the work of ministry. The word deacon [diakonia (Greek)] means service. While you may not dress in black or wear a collar or are donned with vestments at divine services does not mean that you are not participants in Christ’s royal priesthood. We all share in Christ’s service. St. Peter states it clearly in his epistle: ...you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. (I Peter 2:9)
Any person, who offers their time, gifts, talents, resources, or just themselves, is a co-worker in Christ’s vineyard. In God’s eyes, no ministry of service is too small, too insignificant or unimportant. One does not have to be in the limelight, have a good voice, be particularly glamorous, or even be wealthy by any standard of this world; only a desire to share the love of God, the desire and willingness to be of service, a help and support to others, perhaps being there when others are not, a listening ear, a strong shoulder, a good friend.
Third: Stewardship is not ownership. Anything we do to the glory of God in service of Christ is not anything we possess or own. Stewardship is being available, being wise and prudent; being courageous. Stewardship is love and devotion that prompts selfless service. For someone like myself who am called to the Holy Priesthood: that calling is something based upon what St. Paul described for himself as based upon being …considered faithful enough to be called into His service (I Timothy 12:1). It is not even “my priesthood!” It is Christ’s Priesthood!
It is very necessary that you and I not limit our perception of what it means to be a good steward. We cannot allow obligations, urgent and desperate calls for help to be the norm in Christian service. Our young people today are becoming more and more conditioned to the notion of providing community service and applying their time in acquiring credit by serving the church. While this is not a bad thing, especially since we need persons who are properly trained as leaders in serving, we should not forget that this was not the case in years past. Parishes, organizations, ministries of the church were built and founded by volunteers not paid workers. Today, however, many of our churches are experiencing growth by those who have found their vocation in the church as lay persons specially trained and educated in their specific fields as an aid to the priest’s pastoral ministry.
Among the other observations that tell us something about the piety of the men and women who are brought to our attention in today’s lesson is their use of time. The Myrrh-bearing women were obviously “morning persons.” The church has a great deal to say about being a “morning person.” First of all, a person does not have to be early riser to be a “morning person,” although it can help. The morning for any Christian is spoken about a great deal by the Church Fathers, as we hear in our prayers, as a time for illumination, thanksgiving and praise. My soul awaketh early unto Thee… for Thy precepts are a light…
There is much than can be accomplished and a great deal that we can protect ourselves against spiritually when we aim to make the time of the morning, and specifically the first moments of our day as a time that is dedicated to God. I personally describe it as “untouched snow.” The morning is a “new beginning,” and therefore, a new opportunity of beginning anew. “Rise up in joyfulness of soul having had rest.” Just as it is important to end our day with confession and forgiveness.
Finally, the Myrrh-bearing women and the pious Joseph and Nicodemus, were not loners. They shared in a fellowship and their service was something they did with those who were likeminded.
It helps to do things with others. However, doing tasks and sharing responsibilities, however, is not always easy. For one thing, one’s ego can get in the way. My mother used to say, “too many cooks spoil the soup.”
No one likes to have their toes stepped upon. It is a known fact that men and women do not always work or think in the same way. Generally, men often are task oriented, and women build on relationships and work as a network. Leadership is always necessary, and while not much is said about who were the leaders among the women, we are told that Joseph approached Pilate boldly. We also know that among the pious men and women heard in today’s Gospel, their egos were not in the way of their mission. That was because their motivation and purpose was selfless labor of love. No one was looking for credit or recognition.
Remember: It was our Lord Himself who set this pattern of love and service. Before the Last Supper, you may recall: He washed the feet of His disciples. It is recorded in St. Matthew’s Gospel that on one occasion, our Lord spoke with His disciples when they became angry with each other over their personal position and privilege. In admonishing them He said: You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25-27).
O Christ, our God, strengthen us as your ministers in service of your Kingdom. Enable us to be faithful and ever mindful of the needs of others, especially of those who are the most dear to us. Grant us strength to do what is right and to be good stewards of all that you have entrusted to us. Grant us courage to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters. And may the light of Your Holy Resurrection shine through us as we respond to the needs around us.