Christ is Risen!
The Myrrhbearing women – those who had faithfully followed Jesus right to the foot of the cross, even when the other apostles had scattered and were hiding out – were on their way to properly anoint their beloved Lord’s precious body, according to the Jewish customs. This was an act of great love and courage, given that they expected a Roman guard of soldiers to be at the Tomb. They were faithfully going to show their love for their dear Lord, having no idea that from the moment His body died, His soul headed straight for hades, and that while they were waiting for the Sabbath day to end so they could go and properly anoint His dead and broken body; He was spending the Sabbath fulfilling all that He had been sent for, freeing the captives destroying Hades, binding the devil, and paving a path for us to follow Him to paradise!
In the Myrrhbearing women’s eyes, seeing Christ die a painful death on the cross was an incomprehensible tragedy. The Romans on behalf of the Jewish religious leaders had seized their Lord and crucified Him, how could this happen? They had not yet come to understand that Christ wasn’t “seized” by His enemies, but rather “gave Himself up”, that this was all planned from the very beginning. From before Adam and Eve ate from the tree of disobedience and the knowledge of good and evil, choosing self-will over following God’s will, the plan of redemption was already in place. God protected us from eating from the tree of life and permanently being destroyed by sin and death. He lovingly kept us from this tragedy, posting an angel to keep us from this tree and the garden, and sending His Son to free us from death and sin. David and the Prophets had foretold this in great detail and everything was now accomplished as Christ breathed His last breath saying, “It is finished.” What is it that was finished? The greatest enemy of mankind, the unconquerable enemy, that all of mankind was bound and held hostage by, through their own sin – death and the devil was finished.
But the Myrrhbearing women knew none of this yet. They only knew that they loved Christ with all their heart, mind and soul and they were sorrowful beyond understanding at His death. And yet, in their middle of this sorrow, all they knew to do was to go to Him. This was not a reasonable logical decision, there was a guard of Roman soldiers, there was a stone sealing the door of the tomb that was far too heavy for them to move. These sealing stones were huge round thick flat stones rolled down into a groove at the bottom of the entrance and needed many strong men to roll them back up and out of the groove. Yet all they could think of was to go to Christ. When we are sorrowful and confused and wounded and can think of nothing that can help, we would do well to remember the Myrrhbearing women and run to Christ. Don’t focus on the obstacles, focus on Christ!
Who will role away the stone from the door of the tomb? We struggle with the same question. Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb of our heart? The enemies of God and haters of mankind, they do all they can to keep it in place, sealing it with a great wax seal. But the “demons will perish before the face of God as wax melts before a fire.” The Myrrhbearing women would be no match for the legion of guards guarding the tomb any more than we are a match against the legions of the evil one. But there is really no contest, we do not fight the evil one, the Lord Himself fights this battle for us. The Lord sends His angels to disperse these fierce legions and they are immediately scattered, like smoke vanishes so they vanish in the presence of those who love God and who sign themselves with the sign of the cross. They run off and tell lies and invent excuses as to why this carefully guarded and thoroughly dead tomb of our heart has been transformed into a temple where the glory of God dwells! “Bearing life and more fruitful than paradise, brighter than any royal chamber: Your tomb O Christ has become the fountain of our resurrection!”
What does this stone guarding our heart represent? The holy fathers tell us that this stone represents a serious life-threatening condition which they call “insensibility.” This term is used to describe our deadness and insensitivity to spiritual things, to the kingdom of God, accompanied by a complete absorption and dedication to building ourselves an earthly kingdom. What are the danger signs? We have a huge struggle with spiritual activity. We try to pray and are overcome by boredom, restlessness, irritability. We can’t find the time to read or listen to the scriptures and spiritual books or talks. When we do try, our minds are not there, they are constantly wandering, thinking of the things of the world, the next project we should undertake, or our plans for the day or the week. We hurry to finish our prayer or reading so we can get back to “real work.” There is a popular expression that someone can be “so heavenly minded they are no earthly good”, but I don’t think too many of us need to worry about being accused of this particular problem. As usual Orthodoxy is paradoxy and it is far more likely and of far greater concern that the converse of this popular saying could apply to us. We are likely at risk of being “so earthly minded we are of little heavenly good.”
We somehow have imagined that this earth and our short journey here is permanent, and therefore all of our plans and thoughts and energies are focused on this earthly life. The reality of our impending death and of how short our time here really is when set against the timelessness of eternity just doesn’t seem to penetrate our thick insensible skulls. We get greatly energised and enthused just thinking about our next project; about making a great profit, taking a wonderful holiday. Somehow the ultimate permanent reality of the eternal kingdom of God, seems like a fleeting vapour – we’ll get more serious later, when we have some time. This disease of “insensibility” confuses us and we cling to the things of this world pursuing our fame and fortune and we embrace a complete reversal of what is of truly eternal and lasting value. This is the stone which the evil one does everything in his bag of tricks to keep in place as a guard our hearts – to keep us from awakening to the love and power of a life truly given to Christ and the ultimate reality of our true home the kingdom of heaven.
In our more lucid moments we get a glimpse of it and are suitably horrified. When we do, this is a moment of great potential, if we turn quickly to the Lord in repentance. Who will roll away this great and terrible stone? Once we see that we need to have this stone removed and ask God, He will send down His angels to protect us and Christ Himself will come trampling down death by death and restoring us in our cold dead tombs to life. We will find like the Myrrhbearing women, that Christ has already accomplished all, that the stone is removed, the demons are scattered and the Risen Christ is with us! It is truly finished! Christ is Risen!!!
How does the angel greet the Myrrhbearing women? “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is Risen! He is not here.” They are the first to begin to understand what happened when Christ entered the realm of death. Mary Magdalene whom Christ cast seven demons out of is now given the great honour of being known as the Apostle to the Apostles as she follows the angel’s instructions, and John and Peter come running to see for themselves. Beyond any human understanding Christ is Risen! Today with the holy Myrrhbearers we celebrate the very beginning of the understanding of what an unfathomable treasure we have been given,
Christ hangs upon the cross and chooses to die for our sakes, that He may enter hades, destroy the power of death and free the captives; “trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life” Christ accomplishes this completely, for both those living in His age and also for all of mankind, those who had already lived and died and for those of us yet to be born. He enters into this work for which He came to save us saying on the cross “It is finished”. This is what Pascha is all about. Christ comes to save all of mankind – to restore Adam, and He is not willing to leave one of us behind to the ravages of death and corruption in hades and in the devil’s control. All that now remains is for us is to fully accept that great gift with gratefulness and humility and follow Him. We like the Myrrhbearing women see very little of what is really going on. But do we like them turn to Christ as our default response? We in the Church know that Orthodoxy is Paradoxy; the first will be last; we need to die to live; and that if we find our life we will lose it, but if we lose our life for His names sake we will find it. May God grant that we act on this knowledge. May God help us, like the Myrrhbearing women to come to love and serve Christ, even in the middle of bewildering pain and great confusion, even when nothing makes sense, may we too simply turn to Christ and find that He is with us always until the end of the ages. That is joy and hope eternal! Christ is Risen!