- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2005

The following is a sermon given yesterday by Metropolitan Herman, primate of the Orthodox Church in America, at St. Mark Orthodox Church in Bethesda.

Christ is risen. On this third Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the memory of the holy myrrh-bearing women, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

And we remember them, most especially at a critical moment in their lives, for the focus of today’s feast is found in the love and devotion they showed to Our Lord Jesus Christ at the time of His death and burial.

For the holy myrrh-bearing women, those devoted servants of Jesus, it was their last act of love after a long period of service. For Joseph and Nicodemus, it was their first public act of devotion to Jesus, for only after His crucifixion and death did Joseph and Nicodemus publicly acknowledge their commitment to Christ.

To all appearances, the Lord Jesus Christ was dead, His mission a dismal failure. What could Nicodemus’ and Joseph’s allegiance do at this point? It could do nothing except enable them to be born anew as Jesus had said, to come into the light of the truth, as men of integrity, to love and to follow the truth without regard for the consequences. To do this took courage.

The Gospel is even explicit here: “Joseph took courage and went to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus.” For the first time, these disciples were willing to put aside all other considerations and to act for Christ boldly, with no regard for the consequences. And there were consequences. According to the tradition of the Church, both men were expelled from the temple and eventually died as martyrs for the faith.

And the myrrh-bearing women — who were these women? Seven women are actually named in the Gospels, but there were others as well who had come from Galilee, accompanying Jesus and the 12 apostles. St. Luke records that they were women “who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their means.”

For these faithful women disciples, Calvary and the cross seemed to be the end of all hope. It seemed to be the end of their beloved master, who had been tortured, crucified and was now dead and buried. And yet, even in the face of this great loss and unbearable hopelessness, they remained faithful to Christ and continued to serve Him.

In these holy women, love for Jesus was blind to all fears, to danger, and to hopelessness. Their attention was focused solely on serving Jesus this one last time, even in the midst of their deep mourning. And so they went, with their fragrant spices and oils, to anoint Jesus’ body.

As a great consolation and in recognition of their fidelity, the Lord appears to them first after His resurrection. And so, to the measure that they mourned, they also rejoiced. But, as with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, we remember that the myrrh-bearing women served Christ during their period of loss and mourning, before the joy of the Resurrection was revealed. And how significant that is for us, that Jesus first brings the joy of the Resurrection to those who continued to serve Him in the midst of sorrow and apparent hopelessness.

We — each and every one of us — have been called to serve the Lord as His faithful disciples. And we have been called to serve Him not only in those “good times,” in the midst of joy and glory, but also on those more difficult days that we each face, on those days that are marked by the Cross we are all called to carry in imitation of the Lord Himself.

And so, as we commemorate today the example and the fidelity of the myrrh-bearing women and Joseph and Nicodemus and their loving service to Christ, let us also remember that we, too, have been called to serve the Lord and those through whom He makes Himself known to us.

We are called to serve with the single-minded love and devotion of those who followed Him to the cross and to the tomb. And we who serve faithfully and willingly can be assured that we, like those we remember today, will come to know that the tomb is empty, that the risen Lord will come again on the day of His second and glorious coming.

Christ is risen.

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