*By way of explanation, the Eastern and Western calendars do not always align regarding the date of Pascha (Easter). I don’t completely understand it all. Something about full moons and the vernal equinox. Anyway, for us, Lent is coming to a close and Holy Week begins today*
And we begin where Christ began this week, at a tomb in Bethany…
Lazarus, the friend of Christ, becomes ill. His sisters send for Jesus, but he delays. He will not go until Lazarus dies. Even then, his disciples warn him of the danger of this proximity to Jerusalem. The environment there is becoming increasingly hostile. But there is work to be done…
Our priest began his homily this morning by revisiting a passage we had read on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son several weeks ago, just before commencing our Lenten return.
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
He reminded us that we are a people of exile. Although our world, like ancient Babylon, is comfortable and beautiful, it is not our home. Sickness and death offend and grieve us because they were never meant to be. They even grieve God.
We are told in the gospel of John that Jesus comes to the home of Mary and Martha after their brother has been dead for 4 days. Long enough for his body to stink. Long enough for his spirit to be irreconcilably absent the body. Jesus enters into the grief of His friends. And God weeps. He weeps for their sadness. He weeps for a world that is broken, for a people of exile. For all that we have lost. And in this moment, He is completely man. Feeling completely human sorrow.
Completely man, AND completely God.
He asks that the stone be removed from the tomb. Then he calls to Lazarus. By name. Which brings me to one of the more interesting parts of vespers last evening. In one of the canticles, death is given a voice and it seems to be nervous. It hurries Lazarus along saying,
“I implore thee, Lazarus, rise up, depart quickly from my bonds and be gone. It is better for me to lament bitterly for the loss of one, rather than of all those whom I swallowed in my anger.”
Prophetic words. For in just 8 days, the Resurrection and the Life will burst forth from his bonds with such impact that hundreds will be raised along with Him. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Jesus restores Lazarus to life, to the astonishment of all present. “And many believed in Him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done…from that day on they plotted to take his life.” (John 11) And so it begins…
We are a people of exile. As such, we know deep griefs. But we do not grieve alone. We have a God who weeps with us. Who understands the depth of our sorrow. A God who perpetually speaks life to us, by name.
*First in a series of reflections on Holy Week. If you live in the greater Nashville area, I would love to introduce you to the beauty of this week in person. Take a look at our service schedule HERE and give me a shout if you are coming.