Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Then Jesus said unto them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’”
This, ultimately, is the stark and terrible reality, not only for Jesus’ beloved friend, Lazarus, but for us all. One day it, too, will be said of each and everyone of us, “So-and-so is dead.” Despite all the euphemisms we tend to use to dance around those words and their reality, euphemisms like “He passed away” or “She’s not here, she’s gone home” or “They fell asleep,” the clear and plain truth is death. Even our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ Who is the Resurrection and the Life was not exempt from death nor its grief or its bereavement. Death touched the very heart of Lazarus’ Creator at the sight of his sisters grieving and as Jesus stood before the sealed tomb of His friend. The shortest verse in all of Sacred Scripture simply asserts, “Jesus wept.” The Creator and Redeemer of sinners condemned to death is not unaffected by that which was thrust upon all of creation in Paradise by our first parents. We hear those words of God to Adam in the Garden, warning the man and priest of all creation that he may freely eat of all the trees in the Garden save one. And in that day that he eats of the forbidden tree he – and all his progeny – will die, will experience death and the grave (Gn. 2:16-17).
Of course, in Paradise what is death? Death did not exist. Death was not natural to creation or to the creatures fashioned in the mind of the Almighty and by His hand. Did Adam comprehend what God his Creator was saying to him? The root of death is sin, that is, sin’s power that separates man from God and pulls apart creation without mercy or compassion. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world,” says St. Paul, “and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, . . . .” (Rm. 5:12). Adam sins and death becomes our lot. And because death is now our mortal lot as Adam’s kin, we sin. Death is the ancestral curse we have inherited. The cycle is vicious and unending in our fallen world: death/sin, sin/death.
However, we must also be clear from the ancient account of Genesis, that death is not our friend, as some in our world would teach. And, it is not God’s punishment for man’s disobedience. Death is the “natural” consequence of man separating himself from the Source of Life, from God, doing exactly as the devil did in his palace insurrection. Death is our enemy, Sacred Scripture reveals, the enemy our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ has come to remedy by His own Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Indeed, what does the Apostle say except this: “The last enemy that will be destroyed [when Jesus returns in Glory with all His holy angels] is death” (1 Cr. 15:26). In the Revelation of St. John the Theologian, just after the Judgment occurs, “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire” as God’s final act of Judgment and washing of His hands (Rv. 20:14).
Sin is man’s fallen condition and death is its outcome. But, as the Fathers teach us, the outcome that is death is an act of mercy by God for us and for our salvation. Sounds crazy, right? Although death is not our friend but an enemy, a foreign reality to Paradise, it was nonetheless permitted by God and His grace so that sin and the effects of its power could be limited and not eternal. If fallen man had partaken of the Tree of Life in his fallen state, sin and death would have been made irremediable and everlasting, eternally perpetuated and unremedied. Death wounds and stings, to be sure, but it is not permitted by God to do so forever (1 Cr. 15:55). Death can only be seen, then, as a “friend” to mortal man – if it is seen as a friend at all – in the light of Jesus Christ Who is the Resurrection and the Life! “But thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cr. 15:57).
The God-made-flesh weeps. He weeps for His bereaved and beloved friends. He weeps for Lazarus who has been forced by Adam to die, to depart from this life and his loved ones. He weeps for all of His sin-infected, death-riddled creation and Adam’s kin. He weeps not because He is impotent in the presence of the grave, as some of His detractors presume, but precisely because of love. He loves and loves greatly. “’Behold, how He loved him!’” and how He loves even us. How much so? Look at all that this Jesus, the Son of God, has done in His three years of earthly ministry. Look at what He is about to embark on in a short time, how He goes up to Jerusalem to the cheers and the jeers of the people who will seek His most holy and precious blood and savage His pure and blameless body with scourgings and whips. See and behold how He loves! How He loves those who spit upon Him and heap insults and abuses upon Him. See how much love this God-in-the-flesh loves sinners who ignore Him and scorn Him, who cry out in frenzy, “’Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’” See what love embodied says and does, nailed to the Cross, and suffocating to death under the great burden of crucifixion, suffering agony upon agony because of His innocence and our sin. See how He prays in the midst of His voluntary Passion and death, “’Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’” (Lk. 23:34), focused as ever on our salvation, determined as ever to “trample down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing Life” (Paschal Troparion).
Death, beloved, is an interloper! Death, beloved, is an intruder! Death, beloved, is not something we need to be reconciled to, but, in the words of Fr. Schmemann of blessed memory, death is to be fought against and overcome! The Son of God has come to kick the butts of sin, death, and the devil, and to restore Adam and all his kin! And, He starts with Lazarus. “’Lazarus, come forth!’ And he that was [four-days-dead] came forth,” the stench of putrefying flesh clinging to his graveclothes still binding his hands and feet. And He Who is the Resurrection and Life to all who are His beloved friends commands the demons, and death, and the devil to “’Loose him, and let him go.’” All of this, beloved, our God has achieved and accomplished for us sinners and for our salvation, especially in the events of this Great and Holy Week of our Lord’s Passion we are about to experience with Him. But, first, we must go with our Jesus to Jerusalem and there, in the words of St. Thomas, “’Let us . . . die with Him’” so that we can know the power of His Resurrection and His Life (Pp. 3:8-11). “’Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord’” (Lazarus Saturday Troparion)!
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God,
have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!