Most of the services and words of Holy Week are the ones I expect – I’ve heard them before and though something will leap out at me as though I had never heard it (this always happens), I still feel somewhat secure that I know what is coming.
In the Orthodox calendar, Holy Week begins on Lazarus Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday. The services bear some similarity, as is appropriate, to those of Christ’s resurrection. The raising of Lazarus is a foretaste, a promise of what is to come in Pascha, and a reminded that Pascha includes us all.
I have always been struck by the story of the raising of Lazarus, if only because in that story we are told, “Jesus wept.” There is a profound sense that he has sanctified grief by taking it on Himself. He wept as anyone would at the death of a friend, even though He knows that He is shortly to raise Him from the dead.
We ourselves lay our family and friends to rest believing that they, too, will be raised from the dead, and yet, like Christ, we weep.
I was caught off-guard last night at our service of the Presanctified Gifts. My thoughts of Lazarus Saturday were several days away, also intertwined with the fact that we are receiving 15 new members into the Church. But my mind was not on Lazarus. But the services of the Church are vigilant and remember what we would not yet contemplate. One of the verses sung by the choir said this:
Now Lazarus has been in the tomb two days, seeing the dead of all the ages, beholding strange sights of terror: countless multitudes bound by the chains of hell. His sisters weep bitterly as they gaze at his tomb, but Christ is coming to bring His friend to life, to implement in this one man His plan for all. Blessed art Thou, O Savior, have mercy on us!
It struck me that this is where we live most of our days. Not at Lazarus Saturday, at the General Resurrection of the dead, but two days out, while those we love seem lost to us and Christ seems no where to be found. But He is somewhere to be found, and He has a precise intention regarding his friend Lazarus. Christ does not close Himself off from the natural grief of human beings, but He does not grieve as one who has no hope. He is our hope and the assurance of our own resurrection and of those we love.
Two days in the tomb is a hard place to live. But as St. Paul reminds us in his First Letter to the Thessalonians, we should not “grieve as those who have no hope.” For we do have hope.
As St. Paul will say to the Hebrews: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20). We may be waiting with Lazarus – two days out – but we have a great hope – the greatest of hopes. We have Jesus who will not leave us to grieve as those who have no hope.