Who will have Courage enough?
Homily for the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women
By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros
Homily for the 3rd Sunday after Easter: The Myrrh-Bearing Women
The feast of today recalls the memory of Joseph of Arimathea and the Myrrh-Bearers Women who took care of the burial of the body of Christ. It is the feast of the courage of the faith, and of the fidelity in commitment and service.
Let us recall the events. Jesus is dead. His limp body hangs on the cross between the bodies of the two dead thieves. Who will claim the body of the Person against Whom a whole nation had vented its rage? Who will have courage enough to appear before Pilate and ask for the body of an executed “criminal”? His disciples? Where were they to be found? They were in hiding for fear of their lives. But there was another disciple. He was a disciple of Jesus in secret, “a respected member of the council, who was also looking for the Kingdom of God”. But now he declared himself openly for Jesus. “Joseph of Arimathea … took courage and went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus”. It took courage – unusual courage – for a person to do that.
We see also in this event the courage of the woman. Early Sunday morning, a group of pious women went to the tomb of Jesus to continue the anointing of his body, to revive His memory and be with Him for some moments, even in His tomb. They found the tomb empty, and an angel appeared to them and told them: You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified; he is not here, he is risen. He is not in the realm of the dead, but He opened to us the Kingdom of heaven. He descended to death to destroy death. You came to be with him for a few moments with the dead. He is not with the dead. He is in the Kingdom of life, and wants you to be with Him in His new life. Go and preach this good news.
The courage to be Christian is based on the faith that Jesus Christ is risen, and that we are risen with him, and that He is with us always, yes to the end of time.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only a great miracle, an argument or a proof in favor of the truth of Christ. More than that, it is a new world in which one enters with faith accompanied by wonder and joy. Christ’s resurrection is the “new creation.” It is not just about believing that Jesus has risen; it is about knowing and experiencing “the power of the resurrection” (Philippians 3:10).
This more profound dimension of Easter is particularly felt in our Eastern tradition. For us, Christ’s resurrection is everything. In Eastertide, in all the Eastern Churches, when we meet someone we greet him saying: “Christ is risen!”, and he replies: “He is truly risen!”
This custom is so rooted in the people that the following anecdote is told that occurred at the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution. A public debate had been organized on the resurrection of Christ. First the atheist spoke, demolishing for good, in his opinion, Christians’ faith in the resurrection.
When he came down, the Orthodox priest who was to speak in defense went to the rostrum. The humble priest looked at the crowd and said simply: “Christ is risen!” Before even thinking, all answered in unison: “He is truly risen!” And the priest came down from the rostrum in silence.
We know well how the resurrection is represented in the Western tradition. Jesus comes out of the sepulcher raising the cross as a standard of victory. His face inspires extraordinary trust and security. But his victory is over his external, earthly enemies. The authorities had put seals in his sepulcher and guards to keep watch, and, lo, the seals are broken and the guards asleep. Men are present only as inert and passive witnesses; they do not really take part in the Resurrection.
In our Byzantine tradition and in the icon of the Resurrection, the scene is altogether different. It is not developed under an open sky, but underground. In the Resurrection, Jesus does not come out but descends. With extraordinary energy he takes Adam and Eve by the hand, who were waiting in the realm of the dead, and pulls them with him to life and resurrection. Behind the two parents, an innumerable multitude of men and women who awaited the redemption. Jesus tramples on the gates of hell which he himself has just dislocated and broken. Christ’s victory is not so much over visible but over invisible enemies, which are the worst: death, darkness, anguish, the devil.
We are involved in this representation. Christ’s resurrection is also our resurrection. Every man who looks is invited to be identified with Adam, and every woman with Eve, and to stretch out their hands to allow themselves to be gripped and pulled by Christ out of the sepulcher. This is the new universal Easter exodus. God has come “with powerful arm and outstretched hand” to liberate his people from a much harsher and universal slavery than that of Egypt: from our invisible enemies, which are the worst: death, darkness, anguish, and all kinds of demons.
The Church is not a dead body; it is the Body of the risen Lord. The Apostles, before Jesus’ Resurrection and the descent on them of the Holy Spirit were hiding in fear of the Jews. They were like dead. But after the Resurrection of the Lord, they were filled of the Holy Spirit and started to preach without fear. And when the Jewish elders and scribes warned them on no account to speak or to teach in the name of Jesus, Peter and John answered them: “You yourselves judge which is right in God’s sight, to obey you or to obey God? For we cannot stop speaking of what ourselves have seen and heard”.
Dear brothers and sisters, I would like to express to you my profound desire to see all of you active members in the Church which the Body of Christ. You are with me, and with your pastor, responsible of the Church. And insofar as you are active, you will feel a profound happiness, according to the words that the Lord Jesus himself said: “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving” (Acts 20:35).
Christ is risen!