The Sunday of the Holy Myrrh-bearing Women, St. Joseph of Arimathea,
and St. Nicodemus
You’re in your car, driving along the motorway, when all of a sudden, you see something astonishingly beautiful up ahead in the distance. What do you do? You stare at it, you focus on it for a long time as you approach; you pass by it in an instant; and then you watch it for as long as you can — a precious few more seconds — in the rear view mirror. It completely captivates your attention. And then it is gone.
This is what we’ve been doing with Pascha, the astonishingly beautiful Feast of the Lord’s Resurrection. For a long time, we watched it from afar, approaching it slowly over the course of something like 12 weeks. It passed in an instant.
And last week and this, we take our last look at it in the rear view mirror: last week, focusing on the Lord’s appearances to His Apostles and “Doubting Thomas”; and this week, focusing on the Holy Myrrh bearing Women, “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome [, who] bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him very early in the morning, on the first day of the week” (Mark 16:1-2), and also on St. Joseph of Arimathea and St. Nicodemus, who took Jesus’ Body “down from the Tree, wrapped It in fine linen, annointed It with spices, and laid it in a new tomb.”
Starting next week, our focus will shift to the coming Feast of Pentecost, and the Gospel readings will be on the theme of water, preparing us to receive the Living Water Jesus will give us to quench our every thirst. So today, we take our last longing look back at Pascha in the persons of the Holy Myrrh bearing Women, St. Joseph of Arimathea and St. Nicodemus.
Why are these people important to us? Why should we care about them? What do they have to teach us?
They are important to us, and we should care about them, because they are-perhaps of all the saints in heaven-our most likely and accessible role models. Think about the different ranks of saints:
“Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith” While these categories are not totally inaccessable to us, you wouldn’t call most of us likely candidates for most of them:
- Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Evangelists? Their ranks are, for the most part, full.
- Preachers? More than most others, this calling is in God’s hands, and not something we can strive for.
- Martyrs and Confessors? We should thank God every day that our faith does not come at the cost of our lives, at least in this country.
- Ascetics? We are all called to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses and follow Christ – but few to the extent of the sainted monks and nuns of the Church.
But this last category — “Every righteous spirit made perfect in faith” — this perhaps has possibilities. And it is in this light that we should look at the Holy Myrrh bearing Women, St. Joseph of Arimathea and St. Nicodemus.
Who were they? According to the Gospels, St. Joseph and St. Nicodemus were members of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews. And the myrrh bearers were the “women who followed [Jesus] from Galilee” (Matthew 27:55), most of whom, it seems, were named “Mary”. But think about it: Who were they? What sorts of people were they? St. Joseph and St. Nicodemus were men with careers, wives and children; men with responsibilities both professional, to their communities, and to their families. And the myrrh bearers were, literally, the mothers: “of James and Joses, and of Zebedee’s sons. ” (Matthew 27:56)
It is these ordinary people — people very much like you and me — whom we remember today, these “righteous spirits made perfect in faith” whom the whole Church holds up as examples and role models — holds up as heroes, as notable in the company of heaven as the most determined apostles, the most inspired prophets, the most courageous martyrs and confessors, the most fervent ascetics. That’s why they should be very important to us. That’s why we should care about them.
So what do they have to teach us? They teach us:
• That no matter who you are, or where you fit into to human society , you have a calling, a personal vocation to serve and to care for and to build up the Body of Christ: if no longer His physical Body, then His spiritual Body, the Church. It’s not just the job of the priests and deacons, the monks and nuns. It’s the calling of every Christian.
• That you must take courage and be bold in loving and serving Christ. Think about St. Joseph and St. Nicodemus: can you imagine the risks they were taking in going to Pontius Pilate and asking for the body of Jesus? Not only to their reputations and their careers, but to their very lives? But it did not stop them from coming. It did not paralyse them, as so often we are paralysed by fear and insecurity, by the thought of losing control of our lives and our well-being.
• That you must never lose hope, even in the face of apparently insurmountable obstacles. What chance did a handful of middle-aged women have of rolling away the huge stone which blocked the door of the tomb? They knew they could not do it themselves: “They said among themselves, ‘Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?'” (Mark 16:3) But it did not stop them from coming. It did not paralyse them, as so often we are paralysed when we don’t see clearly how and what or even why we are to accomplish what has been set before us.
You and I have work to do. Christ calls us-every one of us-to serve and to care for and to build up His Body, the Church. To beautify it. To extend it. To defend and protect it. There will be risks: to our reputations, our careers, our livelihoods, perhaps even our lives. And it will not be clear how we are to accomplish what we are called to do. There will be obstacles and barriers. There will be problems, and many, many questions. And there are no easy answers; there are no simple solutions.
But there are friends and comrades, ordinary people like you and me who have put their faith and their hope and all their love in the Lord. Who strengthen us with their faith. Who inspire us with their hope. And who share with us their love, today, right now, as we celebrate their memories in one last look back at Pascha: the Holy Myrrh bearing Women, St. Joseph of Arimathea, and St. Nicodemus. Through their prayers, O Lord, make us worthy of their company and save us.
– Fr Augustine McBeth