Here is a reposting of a previous article on the theme of today’s gospel reading. I have amended it a little as a result of my further reflections on the feast. I pray you enjoy it and are blessed …
Today is the 3rd Sunday of Pascha. We are moving away from the tomb toward the Ascension of Jesus and Pentecost ten days later. Any yet, the Church brings us back to the tomb. Listen to another account of the visit of the Myrrhbearing women to the tomb from St. Luke.
While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?  Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.’ And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Mag’dalene and Jo-an’na and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles;” (Luke 24.4-10)
Who were these women whose encounter of the angels and the risen Lord are recorded in some form or another in all four gospel accounts? Of those whose names are known: Mary the mother of James and Joses; Mary Magdalene; Mary, the wife of Clopas; Joanna; Salome, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome and Joanna, and another woman referred to as “the other Mary.”
Why are we taken back to the tomb? Why go back to the place of death? Why, in the middle of the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, should we be commanded by the Holy Tradition to consider the example of these women?
The answer has to do with our need to constantly be reexamining our expectations. In essence, the angels ask them and us, “What and/or who do you seek?”
Do we understand the relationship between what we seek and what we expect? One follows naturally and inevitably from the other. What we expect defines what we seek and what we are able to see and understand. To quote myself, “Nothing will change if nothing can change.”
The Myrrhbearing women were expecting to find a dead body at the tomb. That is what they were seeking. They could not find what they were seeking and ask the angels what they had done with the body!! The Myrrhbearing women are driven by love for Jesus that is among the greatest expressions of it to be found in the Bible. But, that love was set within the context of expectations that are “out of sync.” with the truth of God’s purposes.
I believe it has always seemed best to the Church and the Holy Spirit to remind us, in the midst of our Pascha excitement, of the need to ask the question of “expectations.” What do you expect to find in the lives of others, in your job, in your children, in your spouse, in yourself? That expectation/conviction of the truth will govern what you seek and what you offer and what you can see.
The women did not recognize the angels as angels. Mary does not recognize Jesus as Jesus in another passage. The women are “perplexed.” They are expecting to find what they are seeking – death and defeat. Instead, they find life and victory.
Their eyes and ours need to be opened. Their expectations and ours need to be challenged and changed. How else can they and we live in the midst of this present darkness with hope and resolve? How else can join with Christ in the expansion of His Kingdom? Are we trapped in our delusion; in the dead end of our delusional expectations? Is there no hope for God to break through? This question is crucial.
Can a breakthrough happen? If so, how can it happen? God respects the integrity of our free will. He does not violate the boundaries we set. However, the light of His love, as we have learned, PRESSES upon us, seeking to find a place of entry. How were the eyes of the women opened? What made it possible for them to be changed?! How can the breakthrough into New Life occur?
I propose there are a number of points in life where transformation is possible.
- Yearning to know and receive the truth – “cost what it will, lead where it may”
- Desperate need
- Mercy in the response to deserved condemnation
- The speaking of our true identity/name
Our gospel for today sheds light on how the desire to show love can become the entry point for the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Let me quote from a wonderful homily on the subject of the Myrrhbearing women:
“… in the face of hopelessness, these women act. They buy ointments that will help his body dry out as it decays, and sweet spices so that even in death, his body is honored. Their actions show their steadfast love for Christ, that even after hope is shattered, they go the extra mile to honor Jesus. Such is their love for this dead man.
In their actions, we see that the myrrhbearers came to anoint Christ not out of a desire for any recognition or reward from Jesus, nothing that they could get out of it. He is dead. The women probably have no recollection that Christ said he would rise again, so they probably have no hope of triumph in Jesus’ death. They come not to receive, and probably not consciously to give either, but they are motivated by their love for Him, that they want His body to be blessed with sweet smelling fragrance.
Yet these women are honored with being the first witnesses to Christ’s resurrection. They were the first to know the joy that Christ had defeated death, that hope was fulfilled, that despair and grief were not all that was left to them. And, they were the first commissioned with going and telling others that Christ had risen from the dead.
These women were not seeking the excitement of some great commission, but they received this as a result of their desire to love and serve Christ even after death.
Both are present in the resurrection accounts. In the account of the myrrhbearers we have the presence of love. The women sought to express their love for Jesus even in His death. (The homily in its entirety can be found here.)
The Myrrhbearers were motivated by love. The love of the Myrrhbearers was shown in the context of what they believed was a massive and tragic defeat. They were not there to “get something.” They were there to give all they believed they could give. They were there to offer something – loving care for the dead body of their beloved Lord. Misguided expectations and convictions formed the context for their expression of love for their Lord. But, God used that serving love, misguided by inaccurate expectations though it was, to bring them to a deeper relationship with their Lord.
What is the entry point the point where transformation is possible in your life? Where are your misguided expectations keeping you from seeing and responding to the risen Lord? You have been gathered to this Holy Table in this place, at this time, with these brothers and sisters. What and/or who do you seek? That depends on what/who you expect to find? What /who do you expect to find?
Repent and believe the gospel – Christ is risen and so have you!! Expect resurrection and seek it. Seek and serve Him who is risen in all persons and all circumstances.
How easy we forget. How often we need to be reminded. We need to visit the tomb – the place where crucifixion and resurrection meet – on a regular basis, not just once. This is the essence of the Divine Liturgy and the reason that it is celebrated on each and every Sunday, the Lord’s Day. But, as we do, let us do so with expectancy, to be reminded of, recommit ourselves to, and be nourish to participate in the victory of Christ’s resurrection, not to mourn defeat or with resignation to the inevitability of sin and death in our life. Thanks be to God for His merciful reminder and challenge. Repent and believe the Gospel. Christ is risen! He goes before you and is in whatever you face. Serve Him in the place to which He has instructed you to go. He will meet you there!!
Note: I realize that in the course of writing posts for this blog that the convictions I share may inadvertently conflict with the Holy Tradition. I stand joyfully under the authority of this Tradition to test my words. If, in any way I have erred, I stand joyfully corrected. Lord have mercy on me a sinner.