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588homily for 5/4/14 - Pascha2 - Faithfulness

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  • David
    May 4, 2014
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      Mark 15:43-16:8


      There is an interesting pattern in the calendar of the Church: following
      any Great Feast, the important participants in that feast are remembered
      separately. For example: the day after the Nativity of our Lord is
      dedicated to the Virgin Mary; the day after the Conception of the
      Virgin, we remember her parents Joachim and Anna; the day after the
      Annunciation, we remember the Archangel Gabriel. After the Greatest of
      Feasts, Pascha, the glorious Resurrection of our Lord, we see a similar
      pattern. The feast of Pascha itself lasts 8 days – throughout Bright
      Week and ending on the Sunday of St Thomas, and today, on the next
      Sunday after Thomas, we celebrate the memories of the noble Joseph of
      Arimathea, the righteous Nicodemos and the Myrrhbearing women. These
      saints provide for us an example of faithfulness – the faithfulness of
      God towards us and the faithfulness of men towards God.


      These saints that we remember today are not often mentioned in the
      Gospel. In fact, the noble Joseph is mentioned only in relation to this
      particular event – the taking down of our Lord from the Cross and His
      burial. Nicodemos is mentioned previously, but not by name, for it was
      he who came to our Lord privately asking how he might be saved and who
      went away sad when he was told to sell all that he had, give it to the
      poor and come to follow Christ. The women who followed Christ were
      mentioned a bit more frequently, but often not by name – even His
      mother, the ever-virgin Mary, is mentioned only infrequently in the
      Gospels though she was frequently with Him and cared for Him and His
      followers.


      Both Joseph and Nicodemos were members of the Sanhedrin, an internal
      governing body of the Hebrew people. Although in their hearts they were
      followers of Christ, because of their positions in the world, they found
      it beyond their strength to openly confess their support of Him. They
      were secret believers who “for fear of the Jews” remained silent and hid
      their true belief. Even so, they believed in our Lord as the promised
      messiah and strove to follow His teaching. Our Lord, who knows the
      strengths and weaknesses of us all, saw that Joseph and Nicodemos,
      despite their weakness offered to Him all that they did have and so did
      not reject them but remained faithful to them. At the crucifixion of our
      Lord, they watched from afar mourning secretly at His great
      self-sacrifice. They saw the open grief and strong devotion of His
      followers, especially the women and the Apostle John who remained with
      Him even while He hung upon the cross and they were moved to act openly
      on their own faith. And rather than act in secret as they had in the
      past, they acted now boldly and openly, proclaiming their faith even at
      the moment when nearly all others had fled. They came boldly to Pilate
      to claim the body of Christ and taking it, they treated Him who had been
      mocked and scorned and abused, gently and with honor, placing Him in a
      new tomb and giving as much care as they were able before the coming of
      the Sabbath which would prevent them from further labor. Consider for a
      moment all that they did give of themselves – by claiming the Body of
      Christ from Pilate they openly proclaimed their sympathies, endangering
      their positions in society (that they had previously worked so hard to
      protect); in taking the Body down from the cross and handling it, they
      incurred ritual defilement on the very eve of the Sabbath so that they
      could not enter the Temple nor could they participate in the worship of
      the people until they had been cleansed; they gave the best of their own
      possessions, a new tomb, and care, wrapping the Body in fine linen.
      Despite their fear and weakness, they remained faithful to our Lord
      Jesus Christ, and God seeing their faithfulness was faithful to them and
      did not abandon them. On the basis of this single act of mercy towards
      the Crucified One, they have been shown to be saints and are revered
      throughout the Church. God did not cast them out for their weaknesses
      and fear, but rather He remained faithful to them accepting them as His
      own and providing that which they lacked that they might be made perfect.


      The Myrrh-bearing women who followed Christ did not possess the same
      weaknesses and fears as Joseph and Nicodemos, but remained faithful
      followers of Christ and confessed Him even beyond the apparent end. We
      are told that Mary Magdalene and the Mother of God remained at the foot
      of the cross throughout His suffering and death. They did not, however,
      possess the ability or means to care for Him after His death – a task
      which fell to Joseph and Nicodemos. But they observed how He was taken
      down from the cross and the rapid preparation and burial that He was
      given. They knew that the requirements of the Law for one who had died
      were not fulfilled due to the lack of time. Thus, as soon as the Sabbath
      had passed and it was possible to obtain the necessary materials, these
      myrrh-bearing women obtained the necessary myrrh and spices with which
      to properly care for the Body according to the Law and despite the
      obvious obstacles set off for the tomb to finish what Joseph and
      Nicodemos had begun. Their actions seem to be an impossible errand for
      there was still so great a hostility towards our Lord that even the
      disciples remained in hiding behind locked doors. But these-myrrh
      bearers, out of their great love of God took these last great gifts of
      love to the tomb. They brought the gifts of love according to the law,
      myrrh and sweet spices, to offer to the Body of Christ. The tomb,
      however, had been closed with a great stone and upon that stone had been
      placed an official seal that it might not be opened again without proper
      authority. Further the tomb was guarded by an armed squad of soldiers to
      insure that no one would even try to approach it, let alone open it. For
      the women to come to the tomb anyway, with their gifts of love
      prescribed by the law, seemed to be doomed to failure from the start.
      Despite the apparent hopelessness of their attempt, the women, because
      of their great love for Him, remained faithful to Christ. Because of
      their faithfulness, they were rewarded with being the first witnesses of
      the Resurrection, hearing the good news proclaimed by the angels, and in
      the case of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene the first to see the
      risen Christ.


      These great saints therefore stand as examples to us of faithfulness.
      Let us imitate them. Like Joseph and Nicodemos, we all have our
      weaknesses and habitual sins which seem to overcome us and stand in the
      way of a holy life. But, like Joseph and Nicodemos, let us not despair
      but remain faithful according to our own ability and not fall into
      despair knowing that God will not abandon us but will embrace us even in
      our lack of perfection and fulfill in us that which we lack. We are all
      indeed filled with our fears, with our sins, with our own weaknesses,
      but we also still have the ability to give to God what we do have. Just
      as Joseph and Nicodemos were in a unique position and were the only ones
      who could have claimed the Body of Christ and taken it down from the
      Cross, so also God will provide each of us with the unique opportunities
      to do that which we are able for our salvation – it remains to us only
      to recognize that opportunity and to act boldly upon it.


      The Myrrh-bearers show us their great love of Christ which persisted
      even through the seemingly hopeless time of His crucifixion and burial.
      Their love for Him drew them to Him despite all obstacles. Their love
      for Him drove them to offer gifts of love prescribed by the law to care
      for His Body. We too are called to acquire and bring gifts of love to
      our Lord for the care for His Body, however, our gifts are not those
      prescribed by the law, but the gifts which are the fruit of grace. The
      sweet smelling myrrh and aromatic spices brought by the women foreshadow
      the spiritual fragrances of the virtues which we bring to set before
      Christ for the care of His Body, the Church. Just as the Myrrh-bearing
      Women braved all obstacles and expended their own resources and labors
      to obtain these gifts, so also we must overcome all obstacles and give
      of ourselves that the grace of God which is bestowed upon us by the Holy
      Spirit might produce these fruits of love, compassion, mercy, patience,
      and so on which we in turn offer to our Lord Jesus Christ for the
      welfare of His Body, the Church. If we are faithful in these small
      things, as the women were faithful in the small things of the law, then
      we will be rewarded with the great gifts in the presence of the living
      Christ, just as the women were given the honor of being the first
      witnesses of the resurrection and the apostles to the apostles,
      proclaiming even to them the good news, that is, the Gospel of the
      Resurrection.


      Let us, despite our own weaknesses, despite the obstacles that might
      seem to lie in our path, despite the worldly foolishness of our labors,
      remain faithful to Christ. And God, Who sees the faithfulness of our
      hearts will not abandon us, nor leave us, but will embrace us and fill
      us with every good thing and make us also participants in the
      Resurrection of Christ that we might proclaim with the Myrrh-bearing
      women to the whole world that Christ is Risen.


      --
      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org