The Reading from the Acts of the Saintly and Pure Apostles. (6:1-7) and The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (15:43-16:8)
Since the start of the paschal season you might have noticed that the epistle reading each week has actually been from the book of Acts, (The Acts of the Apostles). This is a detailed chronicle of the life of the early Church and the way that the Holy Spirit moved the disciples of Jesus Christ and guided them to preach the gospel across the Roman Empire.
In today’s passage from Acts 6 we see that the disciples are beginning to deal with practical matters within the life of the church and trying to balance the material and physical needs of the people with their spiritual needs and the necessity to continue the God-given task of preaching the gospel to all nations. We notice that the disciples are overwhelmed by the number of people and particularly by the daily distribution to the poor and needy. This leads the disciples to come together and to say “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
With this directive, they chose 7 men and prayed over them and laidtheir apostolic hands upon them (not much has changed in the Orthodox practice), and they ordained these men as servants, also known as deacons. At this time the role of the deacon was strictly the role of helping the poor and taking care of the table service. It was also to visit the sick and infirm. We know that historically there were even female deacons who had this role. As time progressed, the deacons also began to take on the liturgical role and to assist with the table service of the Holy Altar. We do not have any evidence that this liturgical role was ever given to women in the early church.
In all of this we see that the disciples could not do it all alone. We should know that the bishop cannot do the work of building up the Church, alone. The priest cannot do the work, alone. The work of God requires a concerted prayerful effort of each member. The deacon faithfullyassists the priest. The altar servers assist the priest and the deacon. The parish council plays a very important role as it is advises and manages day to day practical matters within the life of the church so that the clergy can be freed up to focus on the ministries of prayer, teaching, sacraments, counselingand visiting the sick.
Our womens group likewise, plays an important role in the day to day life of the church. Each group plays an important role, and each individual plays an even more important role in the life of the Church. Our Lord Jesus Christ died and rose again from the dead, to redeem each of us from corruption, sin and death. He died and rose again in order to give us life. Does our life reflect the reality of His resurrection? Do our works and deeds demonstrate that we are living the life of resurrection, that we are living the life of the risen Lord Jesus?
What does this work look like? Well I want to be honest and tell you that sometimes, it ain’t glamorous. In today’s gospel reading we see some amazing examples of the service and dedication that is rendered to our Lord Jesus Christ as He passed away and hung upon the holy wood of the cross on that first Holy Friday.
Joseph of Arimathaea, took courage and went to Pontius Pilate and asked for the body of the Lord. This might not seem like much, but I assure you that most of us would not have been so bold. Jesus had just been crucified and it was at the order of Pontius Pilate. To go and ask for His body might have been seen by Pontius Pilate as a reason to imprison or even crucify Joseph since it would reveal him to be a follower of Christ. In addition, we can imagine that since this Joseph was a member of the council of the Sanhedrin, his devotion to Jesus could also be seen by the rest of the council, who could remove him from the council, excommunicate him from the temple and synagogues and even try to have him punished or killed as well.
It was no small thing, this act of devotion that Joseph of Arimathaea demonstrated. One can only imagine the condition of the Lord’s body when Joseph received it. It would not have looked like the crucifixion icons, but would have been much more gruesome to our eyes, because the act of being flogged and crucified was among the most gruesome acts that has ever been devised in history.
It wasn’t glamorous, but often, love is far fromglamorous. This same love and dedication that Joseph of Arimathaeaand Nicodemus showed to the lifeless body of the Lord Jesus, is the same love and devotion that the myrrh bearing women showed to the Lord, when they decided to visit his tomb. It this love and devotionthatwe should all aspire to within the Church. Do you know why? Because the Church IS the body of Christ. When you serve the Church, you serve Christ Himself.
There are so many ways to serve the body of Christ and obtain the blessings of this service. And many of you serve faithfully. You chant and sing. You move partition walls and set up tables and chairs. You bake bread and teach the children. But we are always challenged to do more and increase our love and devotion.
Sometimes it means picking up the extra books that are lying around at the end of the services. It might mean cleaning up the church school rooms that have been left in complete disarray.At times it may mean plunging a toilet or taking out a garbage bag that is full. It might mean cleaning up empty paper plates and cups that are leftlying around inside or outside under the picnic shelter.
It can mean calling those whom you haven’t seen for a couple of weeks or even sending them a friendly text. It might mean making a meal for someone or visiting them at their home. Or it can be something as simple as looking after the little ones to give their parents a short rest.Every one of these actions is practical and powerful in allowing us to do the work of the Church, and when we do these things with love, we allow this place to bea place of healing for everyone who enters. We receive the healing of the Lord by hearingHis word, by loving one another, by praying together and partaking of the sacramental life of the Church. And we work together so that others may receive this same grace.
May we take courage and do what we can to serve the Lord faithfully, through the prayers of Joseph, Nicodemus, the myrrh bearing women and all of the saints. Christ is risen!