Sunday, October 8, 2017

Of Myrrh, Peace and Rejoicing

The peace of God which passes all understanding. That's what is promised to those who do not worry about anything, but by prayer and supplication let their requests be made known to God [Philippians 4:1-9, Proper 23(28)A/Pentecost 19A]. One of the phrases that may be the most meaningful to us today is "which passes all understanding."

After all, the idea that we could look at today's world and not worry seems beyond understanding. Neighbor is taking up - if not always sword - then certainly verbal weapons against neighbor. God's good creation is suffering from neglect and abuse. There is refusal to bear one another's burdens (and sometimes the refusal to bear our own burdens). As Jesus stood and looked over Jerusalem and wept, so we look over our world and weep. For what has already been lost, and for what is being lost right now.

People are often in situations that seem to be incongruent with celebration when they are told to rejoice in scripture. Rejoicing in such situations requires a knowledge - a faith - in something beyond what is visible. And it might be knowledge - faith - that is hard to help someone else understand.

The Orthodox liturgical calendar includes Holy Myrrhbearers Sunday. A hymn (kontakion) for that day includes the text: When you said to the Myrrh-bearers, "Rejoice!", O Christ our God, You ended, by Your Resurrection, the lament of Eve, the first mother. And, You commanded Your Apostles to proclaim, "The Savior has risen from the grave."

Imagine the women going to the tomb, bearing spices so that Jesus would have the honor of a full burial. The image below is by Robert Anning Bell shows six women led in procession by Mary, the mother of Jesus, to the tomb. The cool blue tone of the painting and the frozen movement of the women emphasize the somberness of the scene. For this day, for these women, there are no bright colors, no warm sunshine. At this moment there is seems to be no prospect for rejoicing.
Robert Anning Bell. The Women Going to the Sepulchre. 1912. Collection of the Royal Academy, London. For more information, see: http://www.racollection.org.uk/ixbin/indexplus?record=O1091
Many followers of Jesus have seen days where they could not imagine rejoicing. And yet Paul commands the Christians in Philippi to rejoice in the Lord always. He even repeats the instruction: "Again, I will say, Rejoice" (Philippians 4:4). Can we do as Paul instructed, even as we look at our world? Can we Rejoice in the Lord...always? Even when we are carrying myrrh? Can we continue to, by prayer and supplication - even "battering the gates of heaven" with our prayers, let our requests be made known to God and then live in a peace that passes understanding? It may be one of the harder things we are to do as followers of Jesus the Christ.

For thoughts on the Exodus passage about the golden calf, click here.

Which is more embarrassing...dressing incorrectly for a wedding or manhandling a guest? Click on the Facebook link below to see a possible interpretation of the Gospel reading for Proper 23(28)A?

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