Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. And Pilate wondered if He were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether He was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that He was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. And he bought a linen shroud, and taking Him down, wrapped Him in the linen shroud, and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, He is not here; see the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him, as He told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.
Mark 15: 43-47; 16: 1-8 (Gospel of the Sunday of Myrrh-Bearing Women)
Christ is Risen!
Today’s Gospel reading combines the Tenth Gospel Passage of Holy Thursday evening’s service of the Twelve Gospels along with the Gospel reading of the Resurrection that we read at midnight on Pascha. This combined passage from the Gospel of Mark combines the burial of Jesus with His Resurrection.
When I reflect on this passage, the first word that comes to mind is “courage.” It took courage for Joseph of Arimathea to ask Pilate for the Body of Jesus to bury it. It took courage for the three women to go to the tomb of Jesus early on the first day of the week.
Let’s first look at Joseph. Joseph, we are told that he was a respected member of the Council. This was the same Council of Jewish leaders that demanded the crucifixion of Jesus. By making an overture toward support of Jesus, he risked loss of reputation, expulsion from the Council, and perhaps even his own death. Joseph has the title “noble.” This not only comes from the courage he took to go to Pilate, but I also think it was a noble thing that he “was also himself looking for the Kingdom of God.” Joseph, like Thomas whom we discussed last week, is a very refreshing figure because to me he is so real. There are lots of circumstances where we probably feel like Joseph—we want to do the right thing but wonder what the reprisal will be. Or we wonder how public we should be with our Christianity. Or even taking a stand that isn’t popular. It did take courage for Joseph to go to Pilate and ask for the body of Jesus.
The journey of the three women early on the first day of the week was an act of courage as well. Back then, the cities didn’t have streetlights, so walking around in darkness with the light of a torch was very scary. Robbers or people seeking to do harm could be anywhere and there were three women walking by themselves. In addition, the city was filled with soldiers, now on high alert after the crucifixion. Had they been accosted by one of the soldiers and asked where they were going, the answer of going to the tomb of Jesus could have been met with hostility. Even if they got to the tomb, they still faced the daunting task of how to remove a stone that had been sealed over the entrance. Their journey was fraught with danger and uncertainty. Indeed it took courage for them to go to the tomb.
When we think of our faith, do we think about the word courage? Do we ever think it requires courage to be a Christian? Do we ever step out of our comfort zone as Christians and take courage in our witness for Christ? Do we regularly step out of our comfort zone to help someone else, either with time or with money? Do we reach out to the “least of our brethren”? That takes courage.
The lesson of today is that we should have the courage of Joseph and the myrrh-bearing women in how we conduct ourselves as Christians. Not every day will be easy. Not every challenge will be easy. It takes courage to do something when you don’t know what the outcome will be. But here is also where trust in God comes in. A quote from Deuteronomy 31:6 comes to mind: “Be strong and of courage, do not fear or be in dread of them; for it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not fail you or forsake you.”
The Angel standing at the sepulcher cried out and said to the ointment-bearing women: The ointments are appropriate for mortal men, but Christ has been shown to be a stranger to decay. So go and cry aloud, The Lord has risen and granted the world His great mercy. (Another Apolytikion, Feast of the Sunday of the Myrhh-Bearing Women, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Be courageous. In faith, in love, in service, and in your Christian convictions.