Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women
Mark 15:43 – 16:8
On this day, we commemorate the holy myrrh-bearing women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the wife of Cleopas, Joanna, Salome, Susanna, and Mary and Martha the sisters of Lazarus – who approached the tomb of our Lord in order to anoint Him and honor Him. We also commemorate two righteous men: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus – who cared for Christ’s body and burial in those dangerous and uncertain hours following the crucifixion.
Each of these saints whom we commemorate today have much to say to us about courage, trust in God, and the underlying motive for all of our Christian acts.
Let’s speak first of courage… There is a courage born of love that is demonstrated by Joseph and Nicodemus, and by the myrrh-bearing women.
Joseph of Arimathea took the risk to approach Pilate and seek permission to care for the deceased body of Christ. He was a wealthy Jew and member of the Sanhedrin (a rabbinical court that dealt with religious laws and issues). He was also a secret follower of Christ. Seeing the body of His Lord upon the cross, He was moved by love and gratitude to see to His proper burial. Nicodemus, another secret follower of Christ from among the Sanhedrin, joined Joseph in taking down the body of our Lord from the cross and preparing Him for burial.
These men, who held important positions within the Jewish community, followed their love and their conscience… deeming it ‘the right thing to do’ to step forward for Christ and to care for His body. The climate surrounding Jesus at this time was very volatile and they both ran a risk of ridicule at the least, and bodily harm or death at worst, for daring to step forward as Christians at this dramatic moment.
Let us ask ourselves… do we share this same courage and fortitude? Are we willing to stand apart as Christians, to ‘do the right thing’ at all times, following the call of love and of our conscience no matter what the consequences might be? May God forgive us our lack of courage and grant us strength to always stand by our Lord Jesus Christ.
The myrrh-bearing women certainly demonstrated courage, as well as a perfect trust in God. While all the other disciples hid in fear of the authorities, these women dared to venture out in the dark hours of the early morning to approach the tomb of Christ. Guards had been posted there to keep watch lest any of the disciples might come to take away the Body of our Lord. And the entrance to the tomb had been sealed by a huge boulder which these women had no chance of moving. From a worldly point of view there was nothing awaiting them at the tomb of Christ other than danger and probable arrest by the guards. It was an impossible situation!
Yet, they went anyway…
When they arrived at the tomb, not only had the guards fled away, but the massive boulder that sealed the tomb had been miraculously rolled aside and their way was open before them. As they entered the tomb, an angel of the Lord arrayed in a white robe was there to greet them and these courageous women were the first people to hear the wonderful news that Christ had risen.
How often are we discouraged by fear, by lack of faith, by our assessment that something is impossible? As today’s Gospel shows us, with God nothing is impossible. We need to have the courage and faith in God to simply arise and go forward – fulfilling God’s will as it unfolds in our day to day lives. If something stands before us which we know is the right thing to do, we need to move forward with faith and trust in God – and, if it pleases God, then He will see to it that obstacles are removed. We need to be trusting and willing servants, having the courage of the myrrh-bearing women and the pure-hearted and selfless motivation of love for God.
It is a great temptation for modern man to evaluate things based on perceived ‘results’. God calls us to trust and to love… Leave the ‘results’, the ‘accomplishments’, the ‘perceptions of our worth’ – leave all these things in God’s hands. We are called to step forward in trust and in love. If this results in our utter failure in the eyes of the world, let it be so! If this results in our being misunderstood and persecuted for righteousness sake, let it be so!
Our actions, and our words, and our thoughts must be guided by our sincere and broken-hearted love for God. This is what animated the myrrh-bearing women to venture forth on that Paschal morning. This is what drove Joseph and Nicodemos to approach Pilate. This is what must motivate and inspire us to love one another, to love our neighbor, and to love God above all else.
May God grant us this heart of courage and trust, motivated and enlivened by love.
Christ is risen!