Myrrh-bearers Sunday, May 3, 2020
Acts 6:1-7; Mark 15:43-16:8
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Christ is risen!
I’ve had more than one person say to me over the past couple weeks: “With Pascha here, I feel like COVID-19 should be over.” And I have to admit, I feel much the same way. It just feels like that should be the case. Keeping under quarantine lock-down feels like going back to Lent somehow. Shouldn’t this thing be over now? Christ is risen, you know.
Yet it’s not over. So in some sense, it still feels like Lent. We still have to practice restraint. We no longer feel the stress of remembering to fast, but we still experience the stress of remembering to wear masks in public or socially distance ourselves or staying home or having kids at home or whatever it might be. And there is of course still the stress of the endless chatter and anger and frustration on social media about how the civil or ecclesiastical or medical authorities are handling things.
And so this feels like the perfect year to return to a moment back in Holy Week when it seemed like total defeat had happened—the moment when Ss. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took down Christ’s body from the cross.
These two men, who had been secret disciples of Jesus, showed Him honor even in the face of what seemed like defeat. It was a huge loss. Like those two disciples Jesus encountered later on the road to Emmaus, Ss. Joseph and Nicodemus thought that He was the One to redeem Israel. And now it seemed that Israel would not be redeemed.
They could have just quailed in the face of the execution and public humiliation of the Messiah, fearing for their own safety just like most of the disciples had done. But instead, St. Joseph went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. And he and St. Nicodemus embalmed the body with myrrh and spices, wrapped Him up in burial clothes, and then laid Him in a new tomb that had been prepared for St. Joseph.
Yet they had seen the Lord ride into Jerusalem just a few days before, a day of triumph and victory—Palm Sunday! When Jesus’ disciples saw Him accepted and loved by the crowds, who called out to Him as the Son of David, it must have felt to them almost like Pascha does for us. They remembered Jesus talking about His impending death, but with this great triumph, perhaps that meant that wasn’t going to happen. Perhaps this was the redemption of Israel.
When we experience a great triumph like Palm Sunday or Pascha, it feels like all our problems should be over. And yet, you wake up the next day, and problems are still there. Indeed, sometimes they seem to get worse. When I woke up on Pascha morning, there was part of me that thought, “Well, that was a very difficult Lent, a very difficult Holy Week, and indeed a very difficult Pascha. But now Christ is risen! And maybe I will wake up and read in the news that COVID-19 just sort of disappeared in the night, trampled down with death.”
Yet just like so many of the Lord’s disciples, we still have to face difficulty and loss and tragedy. It is true of course that after Palm Sunday, when they saw Him die, they also saw Him alive after. He had risen! But even though Christ rose, that did not mean the end of difficulty and loss for those who worshiped Him.
After His ascension into Heaven and then sending the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, many of the disciples, including all of the apostles, experienced persecution and often death. Many experienced rejection. Many experienced loss.
But Christ was risen! Shouldn’t all the problems be over?
Jesus did not promise us that. In fact, He said, “In this world you will have trouble.” But He also then said, “But be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Christ has overcome the world. He has overcome death. He has overcome sickness. He has overcome tragedy. He has overcome loss. He has even overcome viruses.
How can we say He has overcome all these things when we still have them with us? It is because all this suffering, which comes as the result of sin and of demonic affliction, is meant by the enemies of God to drive us into despair, to drive us into rebellion against Him.
But when Jesus came, He did not come to wave His hand and make everything bad go away. Rather, He came and He entered into all of our suffering and loss and death so that He might transform those things into the means of repentance, the means indeed of life everlasting.
The example set by people like Ss. Joseph and Nicodemus and also the Holy Myrrh-bearers is to use whatever comes—even tragedy and loss and death—for repentance. They drew closer to God even when it seemed that the God-man had left them! That is what faith is. So we are called upon like them even now to draw close to God even when it seems like He has left us, even when it seems like the demons are winning.
Because the thing about all this suffering and death is that, while someone means it for evil, someone means it to drive people away from God, God is at this moment turning it to good. He is at this moment making suffering into a path not to destruction but a path to life.
God’s answer to man’s suffering is not to wave it away. God’s answer to man’s suffering is to enter into it, to suffer Himself.
Why did not He not just wave it away instead? It is because we needed to repent, and repentance only comes in the midst of suffering. We cannot come to ourselves like the Prodigal Son did if we do not even realize that we have left the Father’s house and wasted everything in a far country.
So let us use this moment, even this moment when it feels like Pascha should have wiped all this stuff out for good but we still woke up and found the world in pestilence. Let us use this moment to draw nearer to the Lord, to become stronger in grace, to become purer and more fervent in faith, to become more perfect in obedience. Let us take hold of this opportunity, even in the face of suffering and loss, to worship the Lord Jesus, to love the Lord Jesus, to make our whole lives about the Lord Jesus.
Because there will come a day when all sickness, sorrow, sighing and death will have all fled away, and all will be raised from the dead. And some will be raised to a resurrection of life, and some will be raised to a resurrection of judgment.
Let us follow in the footsteps of these great saints we venerate today and be inspired by them to serve the Lord Jesus no matter what happens, knowing that someday we will all rise with Him.
To our Lord Jesus Christ, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, be all glory, honor and worship, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen. Christ is risen!