It’s been about three weeks since we spoke last and sadly we are still in the midst of Coronavirus restrictions. I pray that our vigilance will help protect as many people as possible from infection and will allow us to return to a more normal life in the near future.
I hope all of you have been able to pray with us during the livestreaming of our worship services. We will continue to offer these through Holy Week and beyond. Many of you have also participated in our numerous ministry meetings through video conferencing. A growing number of you have lit candles, submitted names of loved ones and made a donation through our Virtual Candle stand. We thank you for continuing to support our parish so that we can continue to minister to God, the faithful and to those in need.
I want to share with you today some thoughts to reflect on as we prepare for Holy Week, the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ leading to His life-giving death and resurrection.
Today Friday April 10th, we reached the official end of Great and Holy Lent. Before we start Holy Week this Sunday evening, we have a special weekend to commemorate the Raising of Lazaros on Saturday and Jesus’ Glorious Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
We are familiar with the story of Lazaros, who along with his sisters, Mary and Martha, was a close disciple of Jesus. We know that our Lord had previously visited their home in Bethany (Luke 10:38-42) and Mary was the woman who anointed Jesus with oil and wiped His feet with her hair (John 12:3). However, now Lazaros was ill (John 11:2) and his sisters sent for Jesus in order to come and heal him (v.3). Lazaros died four days before Jesus arrived (v.20). When Jesus met Martha and Mary and the crowd grieving with them, Jesus was “groaned in the spirit and was troubled” (v.33) and “wept” (v.35). They brought Jesus to Lazaros’ tomb (v.38) and He told them to roll away the stone from the door (v.39). He said, “Lazaros, come forth” (v.43) and miraculously Lazaros was raised from the dead (v.44).
Even though the story of Lazaros is relatively simple, the passage from Gospel (John 11) is one of longest read throughout the year at 45 verses. Thus, a lot of spiritual gems are sometimes overlooked. First, when Jesus announces He will return to Bethany, which is only two miles from Jerusalem, His disciples warned that the Jews wanted to kill Him (v.8). But Jesus responds, “If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of the world. (v.9) But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him” (v.10). His pronouncement seems odd but we remember that Jesus had recently told the disciples, “I am the light of the world, he follows Me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). We are called to walk during the day, in the light of Jesus, which means according to His life-giving commandments. Walking in the night means in ignorance, willful opposition or in the darkness of sin.
Furthermore, Jesus tells Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. (v.25) And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (v.26). There is an important distinction between believing “that” versus believing “in.” The first is an intellectual acknowledgment of fact. The second is a deep, abiding personal trust. Regarding this very personal relationship, Jesus will subsequently tell His disciples, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Being resurrected in Christ is not just for the future after our physical death. Rather, it can be a present and continuous reality as we repeatedly crucify our sinful passions in repentance and confession in order to be raised to a new life, less dominated by sin.
Lastly, when Christ raised Lazaros from the dead, how did He do it? First and foremost, He prayed, saying to God, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. (v.41) And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me” (v.42). Even though Jesus is the eternal Word and only-begotten Son of God, He still prays to His Father. That’s how He raised Lazaros from the dead. If Jesus prayed, we must pray also. For the power to believe, the power to repent and confess, and the power to be resurrected to new life, comes not from us, but from God. He does 99% of the work, but without our 1%, the work of personal and communal transformation cannot be accomplished.
Let’s talk for a moment about Palm Sunday, also known as the Shining and Glorious Feast of the Entrance into Jerusalem of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is one of the 12 major feast days of the Orthodox Church. The basic story is familiar to us as Jesus enters the Holy City (John 12:12) riding on a donkey (v.14). The people in joyful and excited anticipation took branches of palm trees to meet Him shouting, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (v.13).
The central themes of the feast include reverence and humility. We tend to forget that the Gospel for this day emphasizes that Christ rode into Jersusalem on a little humble donkey, not on a horse or chariot. Children and the poor welcomed Him, not senators, soldiers or the Sanhedrin. Additionally, the Gospel passage includes the account of Lazaros’ sister Mary anointing Jesus feet and wiping them with her hair (v.3). Remember, she is the sister who earlier, chose the good portion and sat at the feet of Jesus listening to His teaching (Luke 10:39,42). Mary deeply revered Christ and humbled herself to prepare Him for burial (Jn.12:7). This is in contrast to the greed of Judas Iscariot who tried to portray himself as a friend of the poor (v.5) but in reality was just a petty thief (v.6).
Let us imitate the piety of Mary by making sure that in our home we have an altar to the Lord adorned with icons of Him, the Virgin Mary and the Saints. Let us decorate it with sacred items to help us pray and worship including incense, holy oil, candles, phylacta/ries, prayer ropes, flowers and palms. Let us bow down, kneel and prostrate before the Lord in humility. Let us open up our Bible and listen to His teaching anointing His feet with our tears of repentance. Let us welcome into our hearts Christ the King riding on a humble donkey by dethroning all other kings, celebrities powerful people and idols in our life.
Please see the resources that accompany this video to learn many other ways to celebrate with us. Again, we invite you to join us for the livestream of the Liturgies of Lazaros Saturday and Palm Sunday both starting at 9:30am. Unfortunately, we cannot be together in person nor can we distribute the sacred items and sacraments this Holy Week. Nevertheless, the power of communal prayer and worship supercedes the limits of space and time. Let us never underestimate that power. Amen! (10:19)
No Vespers or Othros readings
Hebrews 12:28 – 13:8 General Exhortations; Jesus Christ is Same Yesterday, Today & Forever
John 11:1-45 Encounter with Grieving Mary & Martha; Raising of Lazaros
Vespers: Genesis 49:1-2,8-12 Jacob Foretells Coming of Lawgiver from Judah w a Donkey
Zephaniah 3:14-19 Be Glad & Rejoice O Israel, the Lord is in our Midst
Zechariah 9:9-15Prophecy of Coming King Riding on a Donkey’s Colt
Orthros: Matthew 21:1-11, 15-17 Jesus Triumphal Entrance into Jerusalem
Philippians 4:4-9 Rejoice; Meditate on Good
John 12:1-18 Anointing at Bethany; Jesus Triumphal Entrance into Jerusalem