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The Myrrhbearers

“Weeping will lodge at evening, but great joy in the morning.”

In our media age we are accustomed to seeing the faces of weeping mothers and sisters, fathers and brothers, on television. A bomb explodes, a new wave of terrorism claims the lives of hundreds or even thousands, and the camera closes in on the faces of the weeping and the mourning. The effect of this overexposure via the media, as we all know, can be a terrible numbing of our souls leading to our ability to watch through an electronic screen the pain of others and not be touched by it. For some of us, though, the recent murder of Christians by terrorists in the Middle East has broken through this frost on our souls. As we have seen Christian mothers and wives and sisters weeping for their martyred sons and husbands we have felt, perhaps for the first time in years, the pain of someone a long way off who is nevertheless very close to us. It is impossible to live and not be touched by grief. For sure some try to avoid the wound of grief by refusing to love, to open their hearts to another. But this is really just grief, I think, in another guise. To be human - at least as we know it - is to suffer loss.

The Holy Myrrhbearers are, we might say, the patron saints of those who grieve, and thus of us all. They are the very image of the loss - the death - of hope. We all feel powerless in the face of death, but how much more these who not only loved but loved one who they witnessed and knew as filled with Divine power. “Lazarus, come forth!”, He commanded, and Lazarus stepped out of his tomb. They must have thought, they must have believed up until the very end, that something was going to happen. When the disciples fled they stayed at the Cross and they watched, waiting, grieving but hoping and believing that their teacher and master - and for the Mother of God, her son - would not die. But He did. And their grief and pain at the death of Christ knew no bounds. The hymns of Holy Week that the hymnographers put on the lips of the Theotokos bear witness to the unfathomable depths of this grief, this sword which Symeon told her would pierce her soul. At the end of his justly famous “Love Chapter” St Paul tells us that three virtues, above all others, will abide: faith, hope, and love. “But the greatest of these is love.” We see this love expressed so tenderly with the Myrrhbearers. We don’t know in the minutes and hours following the death of Christ what became of their faith and hope. How could they have survived this unfathomable loss? And if faith and hope did survive they must have been in tatters, ragged and bleeding. But no matter what became of their faith and hope, there was still, abiding, their love for Him. And it was this love that set them on the road, in the dark, on the path to His tomb on that first Pascha morning. With their myrrh and spices for burial they set out to love Him, as He had loved them, to the end.

The Psalmist tells is that, “Weeping will lodge at evening, but great joy in the morning.” And this prophecy, while certainly foretelling the inexplicable joy of the Myrrhbearers, reaches out beyond them, through them, to all who have tasted the near death of faith and hope in the bitterness of grief. For the Psalm foretells, too, the joy - inexplicable in the accounting of this age - of mothers and wives of the martyrs who have been faithful to Christ even unto death. We, Christians, are all of us myrrhbearers. For we have found, with them, in the midst of our grief, the Mystery of the tomb that is no longer a tomb, but a fountain gushing forth Eternal Life, which is Christ our God.

With love in Christ, Fr John

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