St. John the Baptist Parish, A Parish of the Russian Orthodox Church, Canberra, Australia

Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday

As we approach Passion Week during which we will participate in the last momentous and saving events of Christ’s earthly life, we encounter two events which are in a sense the doorway into this Divine drama. Perhaps surprisingly, this coming Saturday and Sunday are not the harbingers of Christ’s impending suffering, but rather they already anticipate His victory over the power of death. However, before considering how we celebrate these two days through the church’s appointed services, let us briefly recall the historical events themselves that gave rise to this commemoration.

Lazarus, who, together with his sisters Mary and Martha was a close friend of Jesus, fell ill and died. When told that His friend Lazarus was sick, Jesus did not immediately go to him but tarried where He was at the time. When He did finally come to Bethany where Lazarus lived, He found Lazarus already four days dead and many people gathered to console Mary and Martha in their grief. When shown the tomb of Lazarus, Christ’s reaction is captured by the evangelist John through the shortest verse in the New Testament: ‘Jesus wept’. In these two words we see the fullness of Christ’s humanity and His sharing with us of the sorrow and pain that disease and death brings to all. And yet, a few moments later we see also Christ’s divinity when He cries out in a loud voice ‘Lazarus, come forth’, at which command Lazarus rises from the tomb! Many people witnessed this miracle, giving rise to the expectation that Jesus was the long awaited saviour who would deliver the Jewish nation from its bondage to the Romans. Hence the triumphal greeting Jesus received when a few days later He entered Jerusalem and was met like a king by the crowd waving palms. Sadly, the same crowd would not long afterwards shout out: ‘Crucify, crucify Him’.

The historical events of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday provide rich ground for many edifying sermons – but these can be left for other Great Lents. Let me instead simply draw your attention to the words of the two appointed hymns we hear in church on these days.

In confirming the common Resurrection, O Christ God,
Thou didst raise up Lazarus from the dead before Thy passion.
Wherefore, we also, like the children bearing the symbols of victory,
cry to Thee, the Vanquisher of death:
Hosanna in the highest;
blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.

As by baptism we were buried with Thee, O Christ our God,
so by Thy Resurrection we were deemed worthy of immortal life;
and praising Thee, we cry:
Hosanna in the highest;
blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Whichever way you look at it, these two days are festive and joyful. Let us all, even if of necessity in a physically restricted way and in the absence of being able to attend church, observe these feast days as the promise of the universal resurrection. The end of our journey towards Easter is nigh – may this knowledge sustain us in those hours of darkness that precede the coming dawn.

Father Alexander