Christ is risen!!
This past Sunday, my hubby, Dn. James, gave the homily at our parish. There are parts of it that reminded me of my journey to joy I have been on. He touches on John 16:22, “…and no one will take your joy from you.” He mentions courage and rejoicing. Many things I’ve mentioned here before but also, I learned some new things. I thought I would share his homily with you. May you be as blessed by it as I was.
In St. John’s account regarding Joseph of Arimethea, he says that Joseph was “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews.” Given his position, he had much to lose in being a disciple of Jesus. But, in this morning’s Gospel by St. Mark, we’re told this: Joseph of Arimethea “who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, …taking courage, went into Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” Oddly, Joseph found courage in the midst of the darkest and most dangerous hour, where he could not find it before.
And as the male disciples of the Lord scattered for fear of the mobs, the women did not. They kept no secret about their love and devotion to Jesus, both in the glorious times of His ministry and in the darkest of hours. Now forever known as the myrrhbearing women, we honor them along with Joseph today. None of the canonical gospels name all eight of the women who the Church remembers as going to the tomb that Sunday morning, they are: Mary Magdalene, Mary the wife of Cleopas, Joanna, Salome, mother of the sons of Zebedee, Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus, and the Most Holy Theotokos. All of these women showed the same courage that Joseph exhibited in asking for Jesus’ body.
I think one really needs to understand the full social context of what was happening on that particular weekend some 2000 years ago, to appreciate this courage. We have to remember that on Friday, an angry mob was stirred up against Jesus and His followers and if you’ve ever been in the midst of an angry mob, then you know that precious little is as frightening, it is absolute madness unbridled. And in this case, the angry mob was incited by the religious leaders of the day and ultimately blessed by the powers of the state – as if an angry mob were not enough on its own. Really, like St. Peter, would we not also deny Him?
But not so with Joseph and especially the Myrrhbearing women. It seems fitting that these women should be first to receive news of the restoration of the universe. It seems fitting to us in this day and age…but it is actually quite an oddity to see this in the 1st century. In both Jewish and Roman law at the time, only adult males could testify in court, because in that extreme patriarchal culture, women simply were not trusted to be reliable. We can see this even among the apostles, who according to Luke, when they heard the women proclaim the resurrection believed “their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.” And so, if you were going to spin a false story of someone rising from the dead, in the 1st century you sure as heck wouldn’t start that story with women as the primary witnesses of it! And yet, all four Gospels do exactly this. In my mind, I can only envision one reason for this and that’s because the story is true. God isn’t one to be mindful of temporal human social norms – in fact – Jesus spends much of His time turning them upside down. Every parable is a story in which the world’s way is inverted and turned on its head. How right it is, that His resurrection should do the same in reality.
Matthew’s account states that the women: “went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy and ran to bring His disciples word.” One can imagine the immensity of the experience leading to both fear and joy. And joy is something I’ve been thinking about as of late, in the afterglow of Pascha and I’ve come to believe that to participate in joy is truly to have great courage. The same sort of courage we see in the myrrbearing women and Joseph, precisely because as the scripture says of Joseph, they were waiting for the Kingdom. And THAT, I think is a key to joy.
In John’s gospel in Chapter 16, our Lord is telling his followers about his upcoming crucifixion and how they will be sorrowful, but He also tells them that they will see Him again in a “little while” and He adds: “now you will have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
The tone four Resurrectional Troparion (which is one of my favorites) says this:
“When the women disciples of the Lord learned from the Angel the glad tidings of the Resurrection, they cast away the ancestral curse, and elatedly told the Apostles: Death is overthrown, Christ God has risen! Granting the world great mercy.”
I love that imagery: They CAST AWAY the ancestral curse. It’s gone. It’s done. It’s dead. It is a joyful image – to cast away THE single biggest burden we humans must endure. Holding onto that joy is absolutely an act of courage – because let’s face it, we are surrounded by plenty in this world that would have us slide our hearts and minds into despair. And sliding is an apt description because despair is EASY. It is the downhill path, the path of least resistance. But joy? That path takes effort. I believe that like faith, joy without works, is dead.
Embracing the joy of the resurrection doesn’t make the trials and suffering of this world vanish, and it doesn’t cause us to bury our heads in the sand and ignore them. Rather we engage them head-on with confident hope – the same confident hope by which the myrrhbearers cast away the ancestral curse. We illumine the evil in this world with the light of the Kingdom, which Christ has made manifest through His Resurrection. And in that light we see all things for what they truly are. A radical shift in perspective. Having that joy doesn’t mean we’ll never be sad, of course not. But both sadness and happiness come and go, they are like a window dressing. Whereas JOY? Joy is foundational. It is bedrock. It is a way of being, not an emotion.
The first thing our Lord said, after His Resurrection, was a single word given to the myrrhbearers….and it was a command: “REJOICE!” A priest friend of mine from back in Washington recently said it well: “To rejoice is sometimes an act of defiance.” Indeed. I would say it often is. Let us be defiant and cast away the ancestral curse, and elatedly remind one another: Christ is risen!Homily on the 3rd Sunday of Pascha by Dn. James Ferrenberg
4 thoughts on “A Homily To Share”
Nice! I like how this dovetails with your primary thing, kindling joy!
I heard a quote that having someone to love gives us courage; we gather courage in service to those we love. That certainly seems true to me.
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May the truth that you follow, bring you abiding peace. May the love that you profess, heal you of every disease.
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I, too, agree with that quote.
Indeed He’s risen! Lovely and inspiring homily. I like “…sadness and happiness come and go…joy is foundational…it is a way of being, not an emotion…”
I love that part as well.