Friday, April 11, 2014

Come out, and live!

The Saturday of Lazarus, absolutely my favorite liturgical Saturday of the year, except for the following one, Holy and Great Saturday, is dawning upon us.

This is the day in the life of Christ that finally sealed His fate in the minds of his earthly opponents, the leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine. Preaching, teaching, even performing miracles of healing—I’m sure his enemies did not accept the other miracles, such as the feeding of the five thousand—were bad enough, in their eyes, but now this! He doesn’t claim to have raised a man from the dead that was entombed for four days. No, he doesn’t claim it, but everyone else does! The story must be considered the first example of information gone viral. With this evidence in front of them—not that he raised a man from the dead, but that hordes of people believed he did, and then, there was the man himself, Lazarus of Bethany—they had to act, and quickly.

Thus begins the final week in the mortal life of Jesus of Nazareth. Though the events probably did not unfold lickedy-split in factual history as they seem to do in the eight days from Lazarus Saturday to the Saturday of the Harrowing of Hades, they do come at us speedily, just as they did to the people that experienced them when they happened. We, like they, almost have no time to catch our breath, or, at least, starting tomorrow, we shan’t feel much at ease or relaxed. The Lord of all whom we now know to be among us goes to His ever-memorable and glorious humiliation, emptying Himself for us whom He has always filled with good things, in order to make our inheritance in Him, in God, permanent and more certain than any other truth we can ever know.

He dies, that we may live. And not just the way Lazarus was given life again when he was raised from his four-day burial. No, this life which we are granted by Christ, Him ‘who was dead and is alive forever,’ is outside the bounds of what we normally experience as life and death. It is outside physical nature, and yet not entirely within the realm of spirit either. It seems to be that point where times past, present and future, as well as heaven and earth, come to a fruitful conjunction. It is the singularity in which lies latent the new universe that will burst forth with more than a ‘big bang’ on that Day of Resurrection of which Pascha, the day of the resurrection of Christ, is harbinger, first-fruits, and ineffaceable ikon. For ‘all who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, alleluia.’

Alas for the earthly authorities who put to death the God-man who would otherwise never have tasted death, for He is the only sinless one. Alas for their vain hopes that He who raises the dead to life could ever be buried in the depths of a grave, for He opens the tombs, then as He did with Lazarus of the four-day burial, now as He does for all those who do not die but only fall asleep, believing in Him who says, ‘he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.’ Alas for death itself, for it was plundered not just once in the raising of Lazarus, but once for all in the harrowing of Hades, which now lies in darkness below, having been emptied by the One who commands all who have ever lived or shall live, as He commanded Lazarus, ‘Come out!’ and us, ‘Unbind him, let him go free!’

There is no more darkness. There are no more tears. The dwelling of God is with men. He, calling us back to life who lay dead in our sins, commands us, as He commanded His beloved friend, as if each of us were His one and only, ‘Come out, and live!’ Let us join with Lazarus who like his Lord ‘was dead and is now alive’ and follow Him, as He goes once for all to ascend of His own free will the Tree of Life. Brethren, let us assemble with palms to welcome Him who comes to us a poor man, and not rush to reject Him and hand Him over, as did he who lusted after glory, and having betrayed the Truth in human form, hung himself in despair. That misbelieving man descended to Hades and was bound there, captive. But He whom he betrayed descended to dissolve darkness and bondage forever.

No comments: