The second Sunday after Pascha we remember the myrrhbearers, the women who came early in the morning to Christ’s tomb to anoint his body. This article from our parish bulletin gave me great joy, as did the excursion I made with some others from church to several cemeteries this week, where we proclaimed Christ’s Resurrection to those in the graves. Our rector told us that we were also myrrhbearers that day, and he reminded us, “This is not a place of rotting and decomposed bodies, but a place of awaiting the Resurrection; what could be more joyful than that?”
…The women came to anoint a body, a body that had ALREADY been anointed. What a strange thing to do. After all, as virtually every American mother assures her child the first time that he or she attends a funeral, the loved one isn’t THERE! Only his body! If the seven myrrh-bearing women were to have heard our 21st century dismissal of the human body, they would have been astonished. Perhaps they would have assumed that we are pagans, like the philosophers who declared soma sema — “the body is a tomb” — and who cremated their dead to allow the soul to escape that prison. But this was not the philosophy of our beloved myrrh-bearers. Mary Magdalene, when she saw the empty tomb, declared in grief, “They have taken away the LORD” and then asked, “Where have they taken him?” She didn’t ask, “Where have they taken his body?” In her mind, and to the mind of the Jewish faithful (except for the confused Sadducees!), a person was embodied: they looked for not mere spiritual continuation after death, but for the reunion of soul with body, a resurrection! And so do we as Christians! “I look for the resurrection of the dead.” Physical things matter to God….
Anointing his body, then, was not such a bizarre thing to do. For this holy Tabernacle of God, this Prophet of prophets, this High Priest forever, this King of Kings, is worthy of every anointing honor that we can give him—though He has no NEED of our praise! In fact, it is He who anoints us with the Holy Spirit. But there is something for which He is looking—our faith. This ending of Mark summarizes for us many of the stories that are told in more detail in the other gospels. Briefly we hear about the women’s astonishment, and the refusal of the apostles to believe, the surprise on the road to Emmaus, the disbelief in the upper room, and how Jesus “upbraided them” because of their disbelief. The One who struggled in the Garden with his chosen path knows what it is to be weak—though He himself was never faithless. And so, He calls to us, as he did to the early disciples, telling us not to be faithless but believing.
The evidences of what He has done and is doing are everywhere around us and among us. Like the early disciples, we have confirmed before our very eyes the truth of His word. Anointed by the Spirit on Pentecost, they went out with the message, and braved many dangers, even death! As the last verse of Mark tells us, “…they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it.” (Mark 16:20)
We too, God’s little anointed ones, are led by the Spirit, as St. Paul puts it; that leading may take us places we would rather not go. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:14-18)
–Excerpt from article by Edith M. Humphrey, Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary