“I wish I could convince my friend to come to church,” someone said to me. “He doesn’t believe in God, but when I invite him to Church, he won’t come. What should I do?”
We all know people like this, people who may not believe in God, or who may say they are ‘spiritual but not religious’ but reject any organized religion. They don’t have time for faith issues or may have little to no interest in the Church. How can we respond to them?
Well, if they won’t come to Church, then we should bring the Church to them. Remember who the Church is – it is each one of us. WE are the Body of Christ, the Church! And if we are the Church, we can always take the Church to wherever people are and offer the Good News and Love of God to whomever we meet every day.
Through bringing the Church to where people are through our presence, love and words, we have had a number of people’s faith reignited and some of these people have come back to the physical Church.
This theme seems most appropriate for today’s Gospel reading, in which we remember how the Myrrhbearing Women were the first to discover the empty tomb and to meet the Risen Christ.
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?,” the angel asked the women. “He is not here. He is risen! Go quickly and tell his disciples and Peter that Jesus has risen from the dead!”
“Go and tell others the Good News!” Think about who were the first people to proclaim the good news about Christ’s resurrection? They weren’t the 12 disciples, they weren’t the religious leaders, and they weren’t the well-educated scribes and lawyers. They were women, simple Jewish women. Women, who according to the traditions of their times, were not allowed to speak in public; women who did not have full access either in the temple or in a synagogue; women who were not allowed to be witnesses in courts of law; women, who were considered second class citizens, and whose opinions were often dismissed and considered irrelevant by the social circles of their day.
Jesus chose to first appear to these perceived “inferior” women and entrust to them the privilege of sharing the good news with the others. In other words, these women became apostles to the chosen twelve apostles. They were the first to discover the resurrection, and the first to preach the good news of the resurrection of Christ!
Why did Christ first appear to these women? Probably because these were the women who took care of Jesus’ needs during his ministry (Luke 8:1-3), they faithfully stayed by his side even through his crucifixion, and they loved him dearly. They were the ones who went to his tomb to anoint his dead body. Unlike his male followers, who betrayed, denied, and abandoned him, the women stayed faithful until the very end. They did not abandon him in his hour of need or fear the threats of the Romans and the Jewish authorities. Thus, Jesus rewarded their faithfulness by first appearing to them.
Too often in our Orthodox Church, many believers think that the priest alone has the responsibility to preach the gospel and share the good news of our faith with others. What about each one of you? What responsibility, and I must emphasize, privilege, do you have in witnesses our faith to others?
Remember, the resurrection is the greatest news the world has ever heard. Death itself has been defeated. We no longer need to live in fear of death. Christ is risen, and life is transformed! As Christians, we shouldn’t let a week pass, not even a day, without talking to others about this Good News of our faith!
Every baptized Orthodox Christian who has accepted Jesus Christ in their life, should be ready to imitate the myrrh-bearing women in today’s gospel. By virtue of our baptism, chrismation and participation in the Holy Eucharist, all Orthodox have received the good news, and are called to proclaim the gospel of salvation to others. Once we have received the good news of Christ, and experienced His power, then we are not only capable, but responsible to share this same good news with others.
Do any of you know what the first Gospel reading is that all Christians hear at their baptism? It is when Christ tells his followers, “All authority on heaven and on earth have been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” From the moment that we are baptized, we are called to go and be witnesses of our faith. We don’t have to be theologians, nor do we have to study at seminary to tell others about God. We can simply begin by telling other people what God means to us, and what he has done in our lives.
Sharing our faith is like “one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.” We are all beggars, and God has given us some food. Just as it would be a sin for someone who found a great amount of food not to share it with others who are starving, in like manner it is a sin for us to discover God, and then not to tell others about him!
St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, “A necessity is laid upon me, and woe to me if I don’t proclaim the Gospel.” St. Peter gives the exhortation in his epistle, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.”
Don’t be deceived and think that you do not have to share your faith with other people! Our faith isn’t a private affair, between ourselves and God. Our faith, if it is a vibrant, dynamic, healthy faith, can never remain something private between ourselves and God. A living faith becomes something overflowing from within – it is always something public, between ourselves, God, and all the world!
Now, I understand that some of you may be shy or anxious to share your faith with others. Don’t worry! Jesus didn’t say that every person has to explain the most difficult theology of the church. He simply said, “Go quickly and tell others, ‘He is Risen’!” Tell others the good things Christ has done for you personally.
Just go and offer God’s love to someone else. Smile at them. Be kind to them. Show them the joy that God has given you in your life. Don’t let anyone ever come to you without leaving better and happier. In this way, we share the good news of our Lord.
So today, the myrrh-bearing women remind us of our evangelistic responsibility. Let us not simply say “Christ is Risen” on the night of Pascha, and maybe for the following 40 days. Throughout the year, each and every day, let us proclaim loudly and boldly “Christ is Risen!” and let us share all the good news that comes along with this statement to everyone we meet!
Christos Anesti! Christ is Risen! Krishti u Ngjall!