Sacrificially faithful.

Homily 410 – 3rd Sunday of Pascha (Myrrhbearers Sunday)
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
May 3, 2020
Epistle: (16) Acts 6:1-7
Gospel: (69) – Mark 15:43-16:8

Christ is Risen!
Kristos Voskrese!
Christos Anesthi!

When we consider the noble Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, and the Holy Myrrhbearing women, one thing is striking. These were faithful people.

Consider the expectations – Jesus was dead. Nobody expected him to arise. Their lives suddenly went from certainty to uncertainty.

Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin that had just condemned Christ the day before, went to Pilate and asked for the body. That request indicates that Joseph stayed near the crucifixion site because as Pilate notes, death by crucifixion typically took days not hours. In some cultures, if the condemned survived three days of crucifixion, they were taken down and set free.

Joseph stayed at the most precious cross, with the women, and Christ’s most blessed mother, and the apostle whom Jesus loved – St. John the Theologian.

This faithful man took the body of Jesus from the cross and put it into a tomb – his tomb. A small cave was hewn from rock, and likely very expensive. Not likely to be the tomb of a criminal, who could expect little respect for the burial.

Joseph purchased a cloth – again, likely an expensive cloth – of fine linen. This was the same type of material used in the vestments of the Temple priests.

And there was also Nicodemus, who purchased 75 pounds of embalming aloes and spices for Jesus. Jewish law and custom asked for 5 pounds, which was probably kept in a household for just such occasions.

75 pounds would have been conspicuous royal embalming. One source places the current value of those at $150,000 to $200,000. The tomb was an expensive burial.

These men, on their own, provided the most royal burial they could obtain for their King. And they did it fast – they had to bury the body before nightfall, particularly since the Sabbath approached, and even more so because it was a high holy Sabbath.

Oh, and by the way, they were now ritually impure for seven days. They sacrificed their money and their access to the religious rites that were so critical to them.

They did what they could – all for Jesus.

The women also had a role to play and faithfulness of their own. They wanted to do a proper treatment of the body, according to Jewish custom.

They couldn’t go on the Sabbath, but as soon as they could after that, they went to the tomb to care for the body of this man, who was executed as a criminal, but whom they knew as the Messiah.

The common thread was that Jesus was dead. All of these things were done by loved ones for their dead. These things weren’t done when the deceased was expected to rise again.

The other common thread is that these people didn’t likely stand to obtain anything from the love they expressed. Certainly, their reputations would take a hit. And, apparently, their pocketbooks.

They could have never anticipated the resulting fame their actions would generate. That also is common among the followers of Jesus. None of them, at the time of their calling, could have reasonably seen that they were children of victory – children of God.

Quite the opposite – a poor itinerant preacher, absolutely destitute, depending on the kindness and goodwill of others. In life, and also in death.

I have to simply marvel at their faithfulness and humility and love. Apparently no thought was given to the personal cost of that service.

Arriving at the tomb, and finding it empty, and the stone rolled away, had to be emotionally complex. They were perplexed. They were devoid of hope. Likely angry, as yet another misfortune to One so unworthy of any of this.

Then, a glimmer of hope. They are given the news – Christ is risen! Come see the place where he was laid! The expensive linen left behind – it couldn’t have been grave robbers, because who robs the grave of the penniless? Of the destitute?

And even if they had, why would they leave the only thing of any value whatsoever?

The emotions had to be overwhelming – shock, surprise, fear, terror, hope, joy, sadness, agony – the gamut of emotions, all at once.

It had to be an overwhelming experience. So overwhelming it likely took the remainder of their lives to process.

All these things happened to these, and none of it was anticipated. None was expected. They all acted in accordance with their expectations, faithfully. The women expected to find the body of their rabbi in the tomb.

The danger of expectations is that it doesn’t allow for miracles. And our God is a God of miracles, without question.

What do we expect? Are we prepared to release that expectation to God in order to remain faithful? Are we ready to sacrifice our reputations, our security, our fortune, – just as these did – all for our Lord?

Some of the saints, particularly the monastic saints, were visited from time to time by our Lord, His Mother, St. John the Theologian, St. John Chrysostom. Or, by the evil one, or by the demons. Always unexpectedly.

Regardless of the visitor – they remained faithful.

That is what this time may be for. To decide that regardless of our expectations, we will remain faithful and trust that everything is for our salvation – our effort, our security, our money – even our lives.

Because Christ is risen, and death is overthrown, and the only thing of value in the creation is our union with God – a union of faithfulness.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Christ is risen!