The lessons of myrrhbearing.

Homily 594 – 3rd Pascha
Holy Transfiguration, Ames, Iowa
May 19, 2024
Epistle:  (16) Acts 6:1-7
Gospel:  (69) – Mark 15:43-16:8

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

In remembering the Holy Myrrhbearers, and Joseph of Arimathea, this Sunday, I’m awestruck and amazed at the faithfulness of the women who followed Christ.  Now, I admit that I tread into this topic with more than a little trepidation.  Because I am not female.  So I beg your forgiveness for commenting on something that I cannot ever hope to experience.

For some time now, over 100 years in fact, the issue of the role of women in society has been in the forefront of our societal discussions.  But it seems to be more acute recently, with increased interest in women’s sports, the advent of Caitlin Clark, and the coverage of some women in politics – both ends of the political spectrum, if I’m being honest.

Now, as most of you know, I’m not really interested in the role of women in society, nor of the role of men in society.  I personally like to let society be.  I am however committed to ensuring that given our governing documents in the United States, that women, and minorities, and those disadvantaged, and those outside of the nobility of England from which we rebelled in the late 18th century; I’m committed to ensuring that “We the People” is all the people, and that “liberty and justice for all” is truly all.

For it is in that environment of freedom that we are best able to pursue what is important – our pursuit of holiness, our pursuit of the Holy Spirit.  Our country isn’t an end, something to be idolized.  But it is most definitely the environment in which we are asked to pursue our salvation.  And that is what is important to the followers of Christ.

But it seems that the roles of women in the Church are also being questioned.  There is an active effort in many places to revive the role of the deaconess.  There are some, fewer in number, calling for women to be ordained to the priesthood.

I want to say from the outset that these are worthwhile topics to discuss and consider.  I believe personally there is a place for the female diaconate in the Church.  The foundations of the female diaconate is recorded in scripture.  The only thing to discuss and understand is what their roles were then, and what they should be now.

However, there is one more important thing to consider.  We are a revealed faith.  That means, what we know doesn’t come from our own intellect or knowledge or thought or logic.  It means that our faith is told to us – revealed to us – through Christ, through the witness of the Saints, and through the Church.  So like the Christians before us, we await revelation – not to individuals, but to the consensus of the whole Church.  What I think, in the scheme of things, doesn’t matter.

The witness we have, in scripture, the witness of St. Luke and St. Paul, as well as the Gospel Evangelists, tell the story of how women were valued in a community and during an age when that was not the norm.  So this Sunday provides us a good place to look at the role the women played in the earthly ministry of Jesus, and in the early Church.

The natural place to begin such a look is with our mother, the Birthgiver of our Lord.  Because this is the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers, and not a feast of the Mother of God, I’m not going to go into a lot of detail.  Suffice it to say that we should pay attention to the Feasts of our Lord’s Mother, and we (all of us, male and female) need to contemplate the meaning of her life and sacrifice for us – as individuals, as couples, as families, and as parishes.

Stepping back a bit and looking more broadly, what we find are several subgroups of followers of Christ.  Among the Apostles and disciples, we mind all men.  And what we see is men who are, in the beginning, still trying to grasp an understanding of Christ in an earthly way.  They are prepared, presumably, to fight and die for Christ.  At least that is what they say.  They argue and struggle amongst themselves about who is greater, and who is stronger, and all the rest.

You also then have to look at the women.  There is only one report of a contentious act of a woman in the Scripture – when the mother of the Sons of Zebedee asked that her two sons be enthroned with Christ in the Kingdom.  And I don’t doubt for one minute that she was put up to it by her sons.

There is also Martha, the sister of Lazarus, who complained that the other sister, Mary, was not helping to serve.  We remember that Jesus refused to compel Mary to conform to the female norm of the day.  Instead, he commended Mary for wanting to hear Christ’s teachings.  I have to conclude that the role of women in the Church is not just one of service, but service remains a part of the Church for all of us, as we are able.

But there is this overall sense that the women who followed Christ were ones who ignored the power plays and politics of the men, and simply did what needed to be done.  That’s what we see here.  Yes, Joseph asked for the body of Christ, and he and Nicodemus wrapped the body in the fine linen, and laid it in the tomb.

The women watched this – and after the Sabbath, they went to the tomb and prepared to finish the job, to anoint the Lord’s body in the burial custom of the Jews.

And found themselves the first to encounter the empty tomb.  The first to encounter the risen Lord.  I have to think that like Mary before them, they didn’t understand what was happening.  The Gospel passage says as much – they fled in trembling and astonishment.

Yet, like Mary before them, they stored up these things in their hearts and contemplated their meaning.  They didn’t get into discussions about the theological implications of their Lord rising from the dead, or the role they should be staking out in the governance and worship of the coming Church.  They lived in astonishment.

As we all should.  We should spend our days, all of us, male and female, straight and gay, cis or trans, rich or poor, powerful or exploited, of whatever race, and however society would like to separate us, and live in the astonishment of the risen Lord.

The organization of the world wide Christian Church loses it’s significance in the astonishment of Christ’s resurrection.  That is the Good News – the Gospel – that we are all called to both contemplate and proclaim.  That God has provided us, through the incarnation, the death, and the resurrection of His Son, the path to becoming complete and whole again.  The path not to power, but to healing.  The path not to fame nor fortune, but to self-less-ness.  The path to oneness with God, which we call theosis.

That is the message of the Holy Myrhhbearers that I’d like for us to consider.  Not the ego and power and prestige pursued by the men.  But the humility and service and astonishment and wonder of the women.

After the resurrection, after the Lord presented Himself to the disciples in the upper room where they were assembled in fear, we see that the men generally stopped pursuing power and prestige and ego.  They didn’t seek their own promotion, but only the promotion of Christ, and Christ crucified and resurrected.

Which is, of course, what the women had been doing all along.

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