Saturday, April 12, 2014

Jesus Wept

The Raising of Lazarus
The Holy Orthodox Church commemorates on the Saturday before Palm Sunday Lazarus who was four days dead.  It is an interesting and paradoxical service, not least because it is a miniature Resurrection service (at both Orthros and Liturgy) on a day normally reserved to commemorate the dead.  The Evlogetaria of the Resurrection is sung instead of the Evlogetaria of the reposed; the second antiphon and the eisodikon both refer to Christ rising from the dead, rather than being glorified in the saints, etc. 

The Gospel according to St. John is read at Divine Liturgy (there is no Orthros Gospel on this day) and the words that most poignantly stand out as if they were out of place and shouldn't even be mentioned are "Jesus wept."  The canons for this day used at Great Compline the evening before and at Orthros the day of, refer to Jesus' weeping as a sign that He truly became Man in contrast to His raising Lazrus which is a sign of His divinity.  Nonetheless, the words "Jesus wept" get our attention more than even Christ commanding Lazarus to come out.  Why?  Fr. Alexander Schmemann writes about this:

At the grave of Lazarus Jesus encounters Death — the power of sin and destruction, of hatred and despair. He meets the enemy of God. And we who follow Him are now introduced into the very heart of this hour of Jesus, the hour, which He so often mentioned. The forthcoming darkness of the Cross, its necessity, its universal meaning, all this is given in the shortest verse of the Gospel — "and Jesus wept."
We understand now that it is because He wept, i.e., loved His friend Lazarus and had pity on him, that He had the power of restoring life to him. The power of Resurrection is not a Divine "power in itself’," but the power of love, or rather, love as power. God is Love, and it is love that creates life; it is love that weeps at the grave and it is, therefore, love that restores life... This is the meaning of these Divine tears. They are tears of love and, therefore, in them is the power of life. Love, which is the foundation of life and its source, is at work again recreating, redeeming, restoring the darkened life of man: "Lazarus, come forth!" And this is why Lazarus Saturday is the real beginning of both: the Cross, as the supreme sacrifice of love, and the Common Resurrection, as the ultimate triumph of love.--The Christian Way, 1961
Lent is now ever.  Our repentance must continue, but we focus less on our own efforts and concentrate fully on what Christ has done for us in this week of salvation.  Today is but a taste of the glory to come at the Passion and Resurrection next week.   Happy feast!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Memory eternal--Magdalena Ziegler (Rothenbacher)

My Oma and her Urinkel, Simon.
Though it has been nearly two weeks, I am still very grieved at  the passing of my beloved grandmother (we called her Oma)  at the age of 94.  She had suffered a stroke over a month ago. Unlike past strokes which she had bounced back from as if they were just little bumps in the road, such was not the case this time.  In many ways, I am comforted that she has been taken back to her Lord and God.  Ever since my Opa died five years ago, my Oma was not the same and her quality of life was such that she needed to live in an assisted living facility.  She was frequently confused and I'm pretty sure that even in the few times I was able to see her or talk with her, she had no idea who I was.  Thank God for my Uncle Emil and my Aunt Joyce who were able to check up on her. I'm also thankful to the staff of the home where she lived who went beyond their capabilities to care for her.  Also, thanks to Minka, her cat and faithful companion.

What can I write about such a woman with whom I spent so much time growing up?  There's no shortage of stories I can relate as our summer vacations usually revolved around going up to see her and Opa.  I feel that any retelling of those stories would not even begin to scratch the surface of just how much she meant to me and my family.  Even now, I struggle with what to write. I'm grateful that I was not asked or coerced into giving a eulogy at her funeral (my father did a wonderful job of that). I think I would have been standing up there with a blank expression on my faith, struggling and grasping at anything that would have sounded appropriate.  Fortunately, everyone managed to avoid that.

With two weeks having gone by, the visitation and the funeral now done, I think I'm finally in a place to say a few words about what Oma's death means to me.  I admit that I'm being selfish, but what grandson isn't selfish of his Oma?  So here's what I've come up with.  The death of my Oma was the final chapter in the book of my childhood.  Maybe it's odd to speak of one's childhood ending at 37, but I can't see it any other way.  I had spent so many summers with my Oma and Opa as a kid.  I can't remember a summer when I didn't see them.  That doesn't count of course the many times they came to visit me.  Over the years, my chances to visit with them were fewer and fewer.  The last time I saw my Oma was nearly a year ago for a family reunion.  Before then, I believe I saw her in the summer of 2009 after I was in the area after visiting my monastery.  But, nothing since.

I was saddened, but understood that my Oma could not come to my wedding and as she was in Ohio, it was a long way to go.  Then, new wife, new job, new kid; everything piled up.  I'm happy beyond belief I was able to see her a year ago so she could meet her great-grandson (her urinkel) for the first (and only) time.  I am certain that she thoroughly enjoyed his visit.

I don't recall ever being very good to my Oma. I have always been pretty bad about remembering to send cards and/or presents for friends' and family's birthdays.  I think my giving her an urinkel was probably the nicest thing I did for her.  It's unfortunate that it took me 36 years for me to do that.  At last week's visitation, my son and his second cousin, Chrisitan (who is 2 years older than Simon) were playing together.  As I saw them playing and laughing, I knew my Oma would have loved every second of that.

That's the kind of woman my Oma was.  She was totally invested in her kids, her grandkids and, if she had more of  an opportunity, her greatgrandkids.  She was selfless. I remember that whenever Oma visited us, I knew I would never have to make a bed or clean up; she always did that for us. She would cook, she would do laundry, she would do everything as if that house were her very own.  Such selflessness and love one seldom sees and I believe that only with her passing do I see that very clearly for the first time, thus finally ending my childhood. 

She will be a hard woman to emulate.  I suppose the best way for me to honor her is to love my wife and my son as she loved her family, to be selfless and humble and always giving.  It's time for me to do some growing up.

I love you, Oma.  Memory eternal!