Contemporary Tombs

Sunday of the Holy Myrrh-bearers, Mark 15:43-16:8

‘God is dead!’ This is the infamous proclamation of the 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Certainly, this same thought must have crossed the minds of the Myrrhbearing women, whom we read about in today’s gospel reading (Mark 15:43-16:8; Third Sunday of Pascha), as they went to anoint the body of Jesus after His death and burial. The Messiah, our God is dead! One Nietzsche’s proofs, of God being dead, he said, was the churches. In other words, there was no evidence of Divine life nor of belief in the Divine in the churches of Europe at that time. The reality may still be occurring during our time, the 21st century. We modern Christians may be burying Christ in a tomb in this day and age. How?

Well, the Church itself can become a tomb when we leave Jesus there after Liturgy. It’s as if we say, ‘Goodbye Christ, see you next Sunday.’ We venerate, kiss and adore the beautiful icons of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary Theotokos and the Saints, but then we forget that each and every person is an icon, created in the image and likeness of God, worthy of the same respect, veneration and adoration. So, instead, we regularly criticize each other, and gossip about one another, and sometimes just ignore each other. God is dead!

The Mysteries and Sacraments can become tombs when we only receive Holy Communion once or twice a year and when we participate in Holy Confession once or twice in a lifetime. Even if we do receive the Eucharist and Confession frequently, if it is merely out of habit or custom without proper preparation, and without demonstrable positive changes, then we still bury Christ in them.

Extending in the direction from the Church to our own life, is the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the Pisteuo, a tomb for Christ? In other words, does ‘I believe..’, my faith, have anything to do with my actions? Do I consider God and His will in my daily decisions? Do I take my orders from Him in my business, fellow-ship and family relationships? Is our Christian faith just a philosophical proposition or is it a way of life? God is dead!

The Bible can become a tomb for Christ if we never open to let Christ mystically arise and speak to us from the pages into our hearts and minds as we read the sacred Scriptures. The Old and New Testaments can become tombs if we don’t read them with faith, as if they are strictly literature or history writings.

Our heart can become a tomb when we say things like, ‘I don’t need to come to Church, I have Christ in my heart.’ The reality is that is where He will stay, buried when we don’t support the church, its ministries and its people with our time, talents and treasures. God is dead!

Our life can become a tomb for Christ when we bury Him under our many sins, our ignorance or indifference and our bad habits. This will happen if we keep piling it on without sincere repentance and true resolve to change. Our life is still a tomb if we are fair-weather fans of faith, participating only when it’s convenient, when things are going well, or when we feel ‘moved’ or ‘inspired’ to do so. Orthodox spiritual life is not based on emotions or feelings. Asceticism is all about doing what is right, necessary and true, even when we don’t feel like it.

Is God really dead? Of course not. He is very much alive just as the angel announced to the Myrrh-bearing women, ‘He is risen! He is not here’ (Mk.16:6). Part of experiencing the very much alive, risen Christ has to do with courage and resolve. The Myrrh-bearers, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, ministered to the crucified Christ at great risk to themselves. If the Jewish leaders and the Roman authorities just killed the sinless Messiah, who was to say that they or their angry, jealous mob of followers wouldn’t do the same to the people we commemorate today?

We must have courage and resolve too. We don’t live in a time of severe persecution like the early Christians. So, why do we act like we do? The angel commanded the myrrh-bearers to share the news and joy of Christ’s resurrection (Mk.16:7). Do we joyfully and boldly proclaim His resurrection at this time of year, the forty days after Pascha? The Divine Liturgy is the work of the people. It is the lifting up of our hearts and minds to the risen and ascended Christ. The work that we do does not end when the worship ends. We need only remember that Christ did not stay on the mountain after His Transfiguration. He then descended back down to the plain of human illness and the valley of evil to the Crucifixion in order to be raised again.

Remember, the Myrrh-bearers did not roll away the stone from the door of the tomb. It was done for them. And it was done not to let Christ out of the tomb but rather to reveal to the Myrrh-bearers that Christ had already risen. We cannot move the heavy stones of sin, ignorance or indifference from our life. Only God can do that. But He will only do it if we come to His tomb, ready to be crucified with Him, ready and willing to stop clutching these familiar stones so that we too may be raised with Him. Amen!

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