Although I am posting this late – I had to wait for the paint to dry – the Eastern Church celebrates today the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women.
In this image, we have (from l. to r.), Mary Magdalene, Johanna and Mary, the holy Mother of God. And then, of course, the angel showing them the empty tomb with the burial cloths that once wrapped the Savior’s body.
You may wonder how I know the names of the women in the icon. I wonder too. I simply recognize them by the expressions of their faces. As I have often not known that I was going to write something, so have I been surprised at times by what my paint brush leaves behind.
Some may also wonder about the presence of the Virgin at the tomb. The western (Catholic) perspective has generally been that we do not know whether Jesus appeared to His mother after the Resurrection but a pious belief is held by some that He appeared to her first.
However, an alternate view is that the Theotokos was indeed at the tomb with the other women who brought spices to finish the burial process. After all, why would she not have gone? Given that Scripture tells us that she stood at the foot of the Cross, we know that there was no physical impediment to her being with the others.
Again the pious notion might be considered that she knew in her heart that death had no power over Him and therefore there was no further need to tend to His body. She did not need to see the empty tomb to believe. If she was there, would not Scripture have told us?
Some have explained this omission by pointing out that the evangelists’ intent was to make known the existence of eyewitnesses to the empty tomb and the testimony of a mother might be regarded with suspicion.
There are many other hypotheses that have been debated through the ages but none of them really interest me.
As I am drawn further into iconography, I am increasingly aware that the truth an icon conveys is not the historicity that preoccupies our world today. Instead, it proclaims a mystical truth, a truth that is at the heart of the Christian faith.
Whether or not the Theotokos went to the tomb is not the point. The point is that she, like the other faithful women, knew. She knew and believed that her Son was the Christ, the Anointed One, risen from the dead.
The icon proclaims this with her presence. At the same time, her face portrays her humanity. Tired and worn, she was still a mother who witnessed the brutal execution of her Son.
She is one of us. She knows suffering, she knows death. Her heart is pierced with a sorrow beyond telling.
At the same time, having joined her suffering to that of her Son, she is transformed with Him to know what it means to be fully human, to share in the divine life.
Our world is broken and suffering, now on a scale larger than many of us ever imagined we would see.
Let us stand with our Mother, bringing all of our sorrows and fears.
Together, let us gaze at the empty tomb and believe.
He is risen.
He is risen indeed!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!