Last Sunday was the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing women. Our deacon gave the homily. He pointed out that when the Pharisee Joseph of Arimathea asked for Christ’s broken body it required great courage. Deacon Evan listed many other attributes that were required, but courage was the one that stuck out for me. Joseph had a lot to lose by asking for Christ’s body. The other Pharisees no doubt reviled him over the request. But that fear did not stop him — no worldly criticism could have stopped him.
Although Deacon Evan didn’t mention it, it occurred to me that it takes us a lot of courage to ask to receive Christ’s body in the Eucharist — or at least, it should, being the sinners that we are. We take it in — and, like Christ’s physical body, which was glorified and perfected in the resurrection, that taking in of His very body begins or continues that work of perfection in us. It unites us to His broken body, reminding us that we must also be broken, and we must also suffer for His sake and for the sake of God’s kingdom begun through Him and His church.
I’ve recently finished Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, and I found it fascinating that, even after being in prison, Raskolnikov still was ‘unbroken’ — but, after some time, when the faithful Sonya comes again to see him, despite all of Raskolnikov’s poor treatment of her, something amazing finally happens:
“How it came to pass, he did not know but suddenly it was as though something had snatched at him, and he was hurled to her feet. He wept, and hugged her knees. In that first split second she was afraid, and her whole face froze. She lept up from where she was sitting and stared at him, trembling. Her eyes began to shine with an infinite happiness; she had understood, and now she was in no doubt that he loved her, loved her infinitely, that at last it had arrived, that moment…”
Epilogue, Chapter II (translator: David McDuff)
Raskolnikov had finally participated in brokenness — and finally, the ‘something greater’ that he aspired to had happened in the turning away and breaking from his pride. Finally, he had humbled himself.
It seems to me that Raskolnikov’s change is related to Sonya’s reading of the resurrection of Lazarus from the Gospel of John which occurs near the middle of C&P. While Raskolnikov is making fun of her in his mind ( “She really believes this!” ), a seed is being planted which pre-figures and grows into Raskolnikov’s later salvation.
It requires great courage to ask to partake of Christ’s brokenness, even if for the glory of God. Even when we must do so for our salvation.
As I watched everyone go up for communion, once again tears overtook me during a Divine Liturgy. I prayed and still pray for those who partake and ask for His body to have courage, and pray I will have the courage on that final day as a catechumen when it finally arrives. We must remember what an awesome thing it is we ask, to be broken and remade in the image of our risen Lord. We must remember that it is not an easy thing to participate in, that sometime, being remade hurts — it isn’t just a feel-good affirmation.
May we be brave.
Christos Anesti, the Lord is Risen!