Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women
Mark 15:43–47; 16:1–8
The story in today’s Gospel reading is one most of us are familiar with, not only because we are used to hearing or reading it, but because we participate in its reenactment every Sunday morning during the service of Orthros.
‘Very early on the first day of the week’ we come to church seeking the Lord and find the doors to the Sanctuary open and the curtain pulled to the side, just as the Myrrh-bearing Women found the stone rolled away from the door of the Tomb. On the right-hand side of the altar, the priest, as a messenger (angelos) of God, stands dressed in a bright robe and proclaims to us the morning Gospel, in which we are told that ‘Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, has risen’. After the reading, the Gospel book, the Word of God, is carried out through the altar doors and held “in the midst” of the people, who come to greet the risen Lord with a kiss of reverence.
The purpose of this beautiful liturgical practice is not simply to help us remember and identify with the Myrrh-bearers’ encounter with the empty Tomb, but also with the virtues that made these brave women worthy of being the first to learn of the Resurrection and of becoming “apostles to the Apostles”.
From the vantage point of the world, only a fool would do what the women did. Jesus had been condemned by the people and executed by the Romans as an enemy of the state, the Tomb had been sealed, and soldiers appointed to guard it. The women therefore took great personal risk in coming to the Tomb in search of Jesus, but their great love did not permit them to do otherwise. They had no plan as to how they would get past these obstacles — ‘They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?”’ — but their great faith did not permit this to stop them.
They drew near ‘with fear of God, faith, and love’, which we are told at every Divine Liturgy are the prerequisites for any true and transformative encounter with the risen Lord, and as a consequence proved that ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than men’ (2 Cor. 1:25) when they found that Christ himself had rolled away the stone and that the garden Tomb was no longer a place of death but a Paradise of light and life.
We too are called to live according to this ‘foolishness of God’. That is to say, we are called to live lives that reflect our faith rather than the concerns and priorities of the secular world. We are to live as though we truly believe that Christ is risen, that he has conquered death, and granted us the assurance of eternal life. And yet, this seems to be so much easier said than done. Perhaps the reason is that, although we accept the idea that Christ is risen, we struggle to see it, to keep it before us as an ever present reality. The women had rightly asked, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us?’ As we heard last Sunday, Jesus entered the place where the disciples had gathered ‘the doors being shut’ (John 20:19), and so he clearly had no need of the stone being rolled away. The stone, then, was not rolled away for Christ to leave the Tomb, but ‘for us’ to see that it was empty.
So, who will roll away the stone for us? How will we come to see the Resurrection? Today’s Gospel reading is a call to action. Let us not hesitate or delay, but let us seek the Lord at the earliest opportunity. Let us not worry about what the world will say nor about how we will attain our goal. If we remain steadfast in faith and guided by love, then the stone sealing the door to our heart will also be rolled away, our deadened spiritual senses will be quickened to life, and the joyful exclamation ‘Christ is Risen’ will no longer be a theoretical idea, but a way of being.
Fr Kristian Akselberg