This past Sunday, we did something a little different. Instead of a regular service, we explored something from the Eastern Orthodox tradition: the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers. I spent the week putting together a video with Scripture readings, reflections, and a hymn, and thankfully, help with readings and speaking parts from clergy and other church friends around the country. Here’s the result:
The Sunday of the Myrrhbearers is a tradition that comes from the Eastern Orthodox Church and is celebrated on the second Sunday after Easter and for the entire week following that Sunday in the Divine Liturgy. All of the gospels describe a number of people who were directly involved in preparing Jesus’ crucified body for burial and/or discovering the empty tomb on Easter morning. And all of the gospels are in agreement that the majority of these people were, in fact, women. Some name these women. Some just call them “the women.” There are a couple of men among the myrrhbearers as well, namely Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus the Pharisee. Very often, the texts that speaks of the myrrh-bearers are read on Easter Sunday, but here’s the thing: on Easter Sunday, we are focused on the empty tomb and the good news of a risen Savior and all that that means for our lives and our world. As we should be, seeing as that’s the basis for all of Christianity as a whole! But the texts – all of the gospel crucifixion and resurrections stories – have more to say. So today, we’re going to celebrate the myrrh-bearers and what they bring to the story. We’re going to take the time to focus on an element of that text that can often get overlooked in the face of folded graveclothes and hallelujahs: those who returned … and those who went out.
1st set of readings:
Who will roll the stone away for us?
So what’s the first powerful lesson we can learn from the Myrrhbearers? When things got dark and difficult, their devotion to Christ – their faith – remained. There were 12 disciples to had followed Jesus, traveled with Jesus, learned from Jesus for years. But where were they? Judas had betrayed Jesus. Peter had denied Jesus three times, then run away. All the other disciples had fled as they hung Christ on that cross.
But the myrrhbearers stayed. They stayed in the face of the suffering and pain. They stayed in the face of humiliation and shame. They stayed in the midst of utter grief – stayed long enough to water the foot of the cross with their tears, stayed long enough to see Jesus’ broken body taken down from that cross, stayed long enough to begin the ritual preparations before the beginning of the Sabbath.
And not only did they stay, but after the Sabbath, they came back. They returned to that place of grief, of hopelessness, of trauma, thinking not of themselves and their own discomfort and agony, but of what they could still do for their beloved Teacher: give him the ritual preparations and burial that they thought he deserved.
Friends, things in our world are seldom as perfect and rosy and easy as we would like them to be. Our world is broken and flawed because humans are broken and flawed, and sometimes that makes it so incredibly hard to do what needs to be done. We are afraid. We are weary. We are wrung out in body, mind, and soul … just as those myrrhbearers surely were. But their love for Jesus led them to the next step … and the next step … and the next step.
So how do you feel God calling out for your devotion today?
2nd set of readings:
Well, what’s the second powerful lesson we can learn from the Myrrhbearers? They took the good news of the gospel out! They proclaimed a resurrected Christ! They ministered! They didn’t let anything get in their way: fear of repercussions from the Romans who had just crucified their beloved Teacher; the disbelief of others (even some as powerful and influential as Peter); even societal expectations related to their gender and their abilities. Never forget, friends, that the very first people to preach the gospel were women.
There are a lot of things in the world that try to get in the way of us living and sharing our faith. There are a lot of things inside us that try to get in the way of living and sharing our faith. Sometimes we’re afraid. Sometimes we’re uncertain. Sometimes we’re intimidated or we think that we won’t find the right words … the perfect words … the “holy enough” words.
But the women had the words that morning – perfectly right and perfectly simple and perfectly faithful: “Christ is risen!” Sounds like a pretty good place to begin, don’t you think?
Christ is risen!