St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

The Empty Tomb and the Overflowing Heart

 

Sermon preached on the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women, May 4, 2014 by Fr. Antony Hughes

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, one God, Amen.

I always ask myself these days, when preparing a sermon, why does anyone need to hear this?  How can I bring something out of the text that will help people understand more and live more beautiful lives?

What do the Myrrh-bearing Women have to teach us?  For one: they can teach is how to navigate life when it is filled with fear, doubt and confusion.

In spite of these three, the Women listened to the voice of the Present Moment deep in the heart of the storm. The voice of love and tradition called them to go to the tomb, anoint the body of Jesus, and fulfil their duty in spite of everything.  Fear, doubt and confusion do not have the power to paralyze us unless we let them. In our they seem to build an impregnable prison. The secret is that this prison has only three walls. The way of escape is always there. 

The present moment pointed the way out.  His body needed to be anointed; the task at hand needed to be done. Tradition dictated it and love demanded it. The present moment, you see, is where the heart speaks. Listen and turn around. See the empty wall behind you and leave the prison of your mind, the fear-maker and weaver of webs, and do whatever the present moment calls you to do.  That is the way of escape. The other walls will fade as you walk out and you will realize that you were already free and didn’t know it.  The tomb was already empty before they discovered it was.

Religious Tradition can be, if properly understood, a tool rather than a limitation.  A lifeboat and not a funeral barge.

You know I love the Sufi poets and particularly their humor. Here is Hafiz on the issue of religion.

“The great religions are boats, poets the lifeboats,
Every sane person I know has jumped overboard.” 

Religion in the hands of loving souls is a beautiful thing, a tool for the expression of love, compassion and charity. In the hands of the avaricious it becomes a terrible thing. When it does, it is time to jump overboard with the Myrrh-bearers.  Neither the Jews nor the Romans killed Jesus, it was religion in the hands of greedy, jealous, power-hungry men who happened to be religious leaders.  But it was also religion that moved the Myrrh-bearing Women to move outside their comfort zone and obey the higher calling of love and devotion.  For them tradition called for actions their religious leaders would have condemned. So they jumped ship and followed their hearts.  Got to do it sometimes!

They took the path less traveled. They turned and found the way of escape, the wall behind them was empty!  It was a door-way to peace, the way of the heart, the path to the Empty Tomb which is a metaphor for the heart. The path they decided to take that morning was the narrow path from the tumultuous and troubled mind to the calm and peaceful heart.  A short distance in truth and often a very long journey.

The light of Resurrection was already shining! I believe their hearts knew it while their minds did not.  Did they know in their deepest selves that the Roman soldiers and the rock would not block their path?  That the soldiers were gone and the rock rolled away? I think so. I think the heart always knows what the mind fails to understand.  The mind lags behind what the heart already knows. Something moved them.  Was it the Holy Spirit, faith, hope, the heart, the unconscious?  It was all of them working together in concert - the great act of synergy at the heart of salvation.  We must learn to listen for the voice of the heart and join the symphony.

It reminds me of the famous quote by Dame Julian of Norwich that flies in the face of the mind and all it imagines that it sees, because it rises right out of her enlightened heart, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”  Whether we know it or not all manner of things are well.  The Light of Christ is always shining!

The Apostles were stuck. Their minds were so preoccupied with fear-making that the heart, which speaks in silence and stillness, could not be heard over the din of their troubled minds.  They were like spiders weaving a web that would paralyze and entrap them.  Regret, guilt and shame over the past and fear about the future kept them imprisoned in the Upper Room. .All the while, in the present moment, the tomb of Christ was filled with light.

The Women were listening to the quiet, still, small voice. They were free. In the great silence that exists within us all, they listened as their hearts were speaking.  We can learn to do that as well.

“In silence,” Rumi writes, “there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.  Live outside the tangle of fear-making. Live in silence. Let silence take you to the core of life.”

The Women took off to the “core of life” – The Empty Tomb, the heart-kingdom of God.

As Jesus points beyond himself to the Father, so the Empty Tomb of the Lord in history points beyond itself to the Empty Tomb in the heart. Right in here!  They actually are one and the same.

The here and now message of the Myrrh-bearing Women that has the power to alter our lives is that the Light of Christ is always shining and that the way to experience it is to enter the heart. The mind must become still and stop its incessant weaving of burial shrouds made of the fabric of frightening futures and disappointing pasts and come into the present and descend, as the Fathers say, into the Empty Tomb of the Heart.

The way of descent into the heart is mindfulness of the Divine Present and its potential, for every moment is God’s moment and every moment lived fully is Eternity.  The prerequisites are stillness and silence.  Without them not one inch of that internal territory can be traversed.