The Myrrh-bearing Women

June 22, 2007 Length: 13:23





In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

There are many flavors in a Christian life, many colors, different views in the life of the Gospel. My brothers and sisters in Christ, I won’t try to name all of them, but obviously what we might call the Petrine color is essential to the Church, because Peter represents the rock on which the Church has been founded. You might call Peter the institutional aspect of the Church. The Petrine dimension of the Church represents the Church as rock, as foundation. In some ways that might be called, I supposed, the apostolic dimension of the Church: the Church as official, as represented in its hierarchy. We take that very seriously in the Antiochian Archdiocese and of course in the Antiochian Patriarchate for the obvious reason that Peter’s ministry that we know about, the first ministry we know about outside the Holy Land, Peter’s first ministry, is at Antioch in Syria.

There’s a Pauline dimension to the Church: the missionary spirit, spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth, not because the other apostles don’t do it, but because Paul’s the one that we have documentation [that he] did it.

This morning I want to talk about another dimension of the Church. I suppose for a metaphor we could call it the Marian dimension of the Church: the Church of the household, the Church that’s quiet, the Church that raises children, hands on the Gospel to children. Why do I talk about this one today? Because it’s best represented, I suppose, in the myrrh-bearing women. I want to talk about the myrrh-bearing women with you this morning, which I take as embodiments of what I think of as the Marian dimension of the Church. It’s contemplative, it’s loving, it’s helpful, it’s serving, it’s loyal.

I want to talk about this dimension of the Church, the myrrh-bearing, the Marian, the myrrh-bearing dimension of the Church under three headings. I picked three right out of the air: faith, hope, and charity. [Laughter] I think it may catch on. [Laughter]

Faith. You see, we think of the faith as apostolic faith. We think of the faith as apostolic faith, but in fact the apostles had to be persuaded. In fact, the gospels are very clear: before you have apostolic faith, you have apostolic unbelief. [Laughter] And who taught faith to the apostles? It’s the myrrh-bearing women. All the gospels are unanimous on this. The apostles just thought this was something the women made up, or they were suffering some sort of delusion. I mean, “You know how they are.” [Laughter]

These women had to persuade the apostles, who resisted. So before the faith is apostolic, it is in some sense maternal. These are the mothers of the Church. They teach the apostles, and honestly I don’t believe the apostolic faith will be handed down from one generation to the next unless there are women—myrrh-bearing women—in every home, those women who anoint the body of Jesus, those women like [Eunice], those women like Lois—remember Timothy’s mother and grandmother—who hand on the apostolic faith to their children. You see, there’s where the faith is learned. We can proclaim it here in the Church until the Lord comes, but it will not make it, it will not stick, it will not endure—unless the faith is proclaimed in the home—not just by the mothers, of course, but by the fathers.

But nonetheless the mothers are at home more. Even though our fathers speak English, we still speak of English as our mother-tongue, because it’s our mothers who teach us to speak. Among the things our mothers teach us to say is, “Jesus is Lord” and “Abba, Father!” My earliest witness to the Christian faith was my mother. I think for most of us that’s probably the way we remember it: it’s our mother. In fact, our mother had to get us to church because my father was over in the Pacific, making life rough for the Japanese. If it’s the mother-tongue, it’s also the mother-faith. This is an important aspect of our faith, not just that it is the official faith of the apostles—it is Petrine and Pauline—but it is also Marian. The myrrh-bearing women are those who teach the faith to the Church, and they continue to do this. That will be a very sad generation which does not produce its own race of myrrh-bearing women who hand on the faith.

It was these myrrh-bearing women who held the faith during all of those centuries when the Turk ruled in Greece. It’s these women who held the faith during all of those decades where the Bolsheviks held forth in Russia. The myrrh-bearing women are absolutely essential to the faith. They’re as essential as the apostles, because were it not for the faith of the myrrh-bearing women, there would be no apostolic faith.

Second, let’s talk about hope: the myrrh-bearing women as the sources of hope to the Church. [In] the gospels, especially Luke, it’s very clear that the women who showed up at the tomb on the morning of Pascha were the same ones who stood at the foot of the cross when most of the apostles weren’t there. This is the hope of the Church. This is the hope that stands there in the face of despair, that hope that believes when there seems to be no reason for hope, this undying hope that trusts in God even in the face of the Cross, and in utter humiliation and defeat. These women stood there. When everybody else leaves, they’re still standing at the foot of the cross, models to us all.

The apostles are, by and large, hiding in the upper room, as though they couldn’t have gotten arrested up there just as well as anywhere else. [Laughter] It was these women from the nucleus of the Church, who stand with one apostle, stand there at the foot of the cross. And then, when the Sabbath is over, they go to anoint his body.

That brings me to the third point, which is charity, or love. When there’s nothing else to do, these women shoulder these spices, this myrrh—most unpractical. What good does it do to anoint a body? Except for futures in myrrh and spices, it doesn’t help the gross national product. [Laughter] But it is the loving thing to do. The loving thing to do. These women sensed what love would inspire. They’re not the least bit practical: they have no idea how they’re going to get into the tomb. An angel, who was the perfect gentleman—or gentle-angel—comes and rolls away the stone from the door of the tomb.

Here they are, standing here, with all these spices. They find no body to anoint. I mean, talk about impractical! All this money spent on spices. They bring them to the tomb. There’s no body to anoint. And the gospels don’t even tell us what happened to the spices. We presume they just left them there, because they had a more serious task before them. That was the task to go back, tell the apostles: “We saw an angel. He said the Lord is risen, and we are to go to Galilee, for there we will see him.”

They came to anoint his body. A couple of them had anointed his body even earlier, hadn’t they? They seem always to be anointing him, pouring alabaster flask over his head, over his feet. When they could do nothing else for him, and as far as they know he is dead, they come to anoint him. These myrrh-bearing women are an essential component of the Church, because they know and they always sense: what is the loving thing to do? What is the loving thing to do.

I remember taking my wife with me on a hospital visit one time—actually I’ve done it many times, but I think it may be the first time I took her to a hospital visit—and I went to visit this lady in the hospital. And I’m standing there, talking to this lady—I don’t remember what I was saying, probably something quite theoretical about the value of suffering or something, I don’t know. And I’ll never forget what my wife did. She took a washrag and went over and dipped it in cold water and wiped her face. If I would have lived to be a hundred, it wouldn’t occur to me to do that. She sensed the loving thing to do. She had some perception of the need of this person in front of her.

Now, the myrrh-bearing women teach this to us, my brothers and sisters. We invoke the Holy Spirit that it would teach us inwardly what is the loving, the kind, the gentle, and the inviting thing to do. What will relieve fears? What will take away anxiety? What will strengthen that which is weak, encourage that which is anxious and in despair? These myrrh-bearing women are not just the women of the Church, but it’s in the women of the Church that they are embodied in today’s gospel and today’s feast, models of faith, of hope, of love. For in these things consist the life in Christ.