Sunday of the Myrrh-bearers
Today is the third Sunday of Pascha. The specific theme for today is to remember the so-called Myrrh-bearers. These were the two men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nikodemus, who took Jesus’ body down from the cross, prepared it for burial, laid it in the sepulcher; and also the several women who, after the resurrection, visited Jesus’ tomb and found it empty.
Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man, an “honorable counselor” of the Jews, who had some sway with the Roman governor. Joseph was able to pull strings, so to speak, and get permission to take possession of Jesus’ body and to bury it, because otherwise it might have been disposed of dishonorably. It is said that Joseph was treated badly by the Jewish authorities for burying Jesus, that he was tied up and thrown into a pit. But Jesus appeared to him after He rose from the dead, to confirm His resurrection. Joseph escaped and went to his estate in Arimathea. He was a first-hand witness of the Resurrection.
Nikodemus was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin; so he was aware of the motives and plots behind the scenes that led to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. He is probably the source of that information in the Gospel accounts. Because he spoke openly about this and the resurrection, he was permanently removed from the Jewish Council.
There were many so-called Myrrh-bearing Women, who went back and forth to Jesus’ tomb several time and in different groups. That explains why the multiple accounts of them in the four Gospels vary so much. Each account in the Gospels describes a particular group or visit.
Patristic tradition has it that, when He rose from the dead, Jesus appeared first to His mother, the Virgin Mary, that the Angel (probably the Archangel Gabriel) removed the stone from the tomb specifically for her to see that it was empty. The evangelists did not explicitly describe Jesus’ first appearance to His mother, because they felt it would present a conflict of interest, namely the testimony of a family member, and thus diminish the credibility of their account. So they focus on Mary Magdalene and call the Virgin Mary “the other Mary,” or “the mother of James.”
Concerning Mary Magdalene, legend has it that sometime after Pentecost, she traveled to Rome and told Tiberius Caesar what Pontius Pilate had allowed to happen to Jesus. Some sources trace the red Easter egg tradition to this audience with Caesar. According to this account, Mary Magdalene, holding a plain egg, greeted Caesar and said, “Christ is risen!” He said, “It is just as likely that Christ rose from the dead as it is likely that the egg you hold will turn red.” And then the egg turned red, and Mary preached Christ to Caesar and the imperial household.
The term “Myrrh-bearers” is a misnomer and an incorrect rendering of the Greek word Μυροφόροι. The women prepared “spices and ointments” or “fragrant oils,” to anoint Jesus, not myrrh. Myrrh is a kind of gum or resin, not the fragrant oil that the women brought. Nikodemus is the one who brought “a mixture of myrrh and aloes.” The Greek word for myrrh is σμύρνα, not μύρα. Μύρα means ointments or fragrant oils. Φόρος is a suffix that means, “one who bears, holds, carries.” So, Μυροφόροι γυναῖκες, describes the women who brought ointments and fragrant oils to Jesus’ tomb.