27 April 2015

Homily for the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women

            The story is told that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson once went camping. In the middle of the night, Holmes woke up Watson and said, “Watson, look up, and see the stars. What do you deduce from that?”
            “Well,” said Watson, “There are so many of them—billions, to be sure. Some of those stars must be like our sun. And some of those must have planets revolving around them. And some of those planets must be hospitable for life. And some of those planets hospitable for life must have life on them. So I deduce that we are not alone in the universe.”
            “You missed the main point!” said Sherlock. “From the fact that we can see the stars, we can deduce that someone has taken our tent!”
            Sometimes it’s easy for us, like Holmes, to notice all kinds of things that are beside the point…things that are true, and worthy of reflection—but things that miss the main point.
            Consider today’s gospel lesson. It begins with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus taking the Lord’s lifeless body from the tree and, with the women, quickly preparing it for burial in Joseph’s tomb. It ends with the angel, and the women running away from the tomb in fear and amazement.
            It is worth reflecting on the courage of Joseph and Nicodemus who, when all the apostles had run away, did what they could to honor one who, to all appearances, could show no kindness back to them. They carried a body, a corpse, to its final resting place.
            It is worth reflecting on the deep love the myrrh-bearing women had for their Lord. Like Joseph and Nicodemus, they stayed with Christ when all hope had died. They alone, of all his followers, showed him love when love no longer seemed to have a point. They prepared his body and, after keeping the Sabbath, they went with spices to finish the job they had started on Friday afternoon.
            Both of these are important. But neither of them is the central point of the text. The main point is not in what we see here, but in what we don’t see. Remember the Lord’s body, so lovingly taken down from the tree, prepared for burial and laid in the tomb, and made secure with a giant stone?
            Well, THE BODY IS GONE. THE TOMB IS EMPTY. And that’s the main point of our text. Hear the words of the angels: “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.”
            The tomb is empty. On that fact, all agreed: the women, the disciples—even the enemies of Christ agreed. When, a scant fifty three days after his crucifixion the disciples proclaimed him risen, it would have ended everything if the rulers had simply produced the body. But they could not. What happened?
            Police who investigate crimes look for three things: motive, method, and opportunity. Some may say the disciples had a motive—though it’s hard to imagine pious Jews wanting to steal any body, much less their honored rabbi’s. But they had no method, and no opportunity, because the grave was guarded by Roman soldiers, and they themselves were in shock, scarcely able to plan anything.
            And the enemies of Christ had no motive. They wanted him gone, once and for all. They even set a guard over the tomb.
            The tomb is empty because, dear friends, Christ is risen from the dead, just as he said. As the angel said, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.”
            Because he is risen, the courage of Joseph and Nicodemus…the love shown by the myrrh-bearing women…indeed, all the things done for Christ’s sake from that day to this will never be forgotten. He is risen, and so the least thing we do in his service—even a cup of cold water—will be remembered by him in his Kingdom. So Paul could tell the Corinthians, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
            Because he is risen, the fear of the disciples—yes, and even the rebellion of his enemies—will not have the last word. Did you notice that today’s epistle concludes by saying, “A great number of the priests became obedient to the faith”? So if you struggle against your sin…if you fall…you need not despair. For he who died for love of you did not remain in death. He has redeemed you by his precious blood; he has overcome death and sin, the devil and the grave. Come to the tomb. See the stone, rolled away and useless. “Wherefore, O Women Disciples, do ye mingle sweet-smelling spices with your tears of pity? “The radiant Angel within the sepulcher cried unto the Myrrh-bearing Women: Behold the grave, and understand; for the Savior is risen from the tomb.” And so we rejoice today, for Christ is risen!

17 April 2015

Stoicism in three lines

Follow virtue.
Fight vice.
Forget about the rest.