May 4, 2014

Myrrh Bearers-New Righteousness

The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. (Luke 23:55-24:12)

Today we meet women who are called ‘Faithful’ and have been named ‘Myrrh bearers’ because they “followed [to the tomb], and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments” (Luke 55-56) Then “on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.” We learn that “it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them.” (Luke 24:10)

These women were ‘fulfilling all righteousness’ by doing the best they could for their Crucified Lord. It was the woman’s place to anoint dead bodies and prepare them for burial. Because of the time of the death and the approaching Sabbath, they were not able to do this for Jesus immediately after his death. Remember, Joseph of Arimathea requested the body, “wrapped it in a linen shroud, and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb, where no one had ever yet been laid.” (Luke 23:53) According to Matthew this was actually his personal tomb.

The women saw where Jesus was laid and then “the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” (Luke 23:56) Clearly these are women who are responsible and who obey the Law of Moses. They remain home and do not work on the Sabbath. However, as soon as they can they take their spices to the tomb to complete the work of anointing Jesus’ body. It is early dawn-the end of the Sabbath and beginning of the week.

When they arrive at the tomb, “They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.” (Luke 24:2-3) Imagine their dismay. The Gospel account says “they were perplexed about this!” I should think they were more than perplexed!

The surprises were just beginning, though. This image is entitled Morning of the Resurrection (Herbert Gustve Smaltz). It shows the moment when the women's perception of the world order-of what is righteousness and what is normal was overturned. “Suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.’” (Luke 24:4-5) The message of the angels is almost too astonishing to comprehend. The old norms of life and death, of ‘follow the rules and be righteous before God’, of what is possible are quite literally overturned. The angels’ question calls into doubt all their perceptions. How could the man they saw buried, be alive, and what does it mean to be ‘risen’?

The angels’ do not leave them wondering for long. They say, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” (Luke 24:6-7) At these words, the women begin to have a hint of the new order that has come into the world. The old ways of righteousness are no longer needed. There is a new world order. They return “from the tomb, [and] told all this to the eleven and to all the rest…But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (Luke 24: 9, 11) In Luke’s Gospel it is only “Peter [who] got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.” (Luke 24:12)

Don't be too hard on the other disciples. It is hard to let go of our perceptions of how things should be. We hear people say, “This or that should be done in the way it’s been done for as long as I can remember.” There are certain rules to be followed in society and in our jobs and in relationships-aren’t there? We are happy to ‘fulfill all righteousness’ as we see it, but woe to the person who tries to change the rules.

What exactly does it mean to ‘fulfill all righteousness’? The saying comes straight out of the Bible. Jesus tells John the Baptist that he must be baptized to, as the New Living Translation says, “carry out all that God requires.” To be righteous is to be in right-relationship with God. And to do that we often think we have to follow a series of rules. Like the women, who rested on the Sabbath before going to do their duty, we allow expectations (our own and society’s) to dictate what we should do and how we should interact with God and God’s people.

“He is not here, He is risen!” The angels’ proclamation should turn our reality upside down, just as much as it did for those faithful women. Let’s not be like Peter who just went and looked into the empty tomb and went away amazed. Let’s allow the Easter message to sink in and change us from the inside out. Paul tells the Corinthians, and us, “Our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (I Corinthians 5:7-9). There is a new world order. There is a new way of righteousness-right relationship with God. May we live fully into the new life!

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