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!


  1. I am a Lutheran; Fr. Alexander Schmemann is one of my favorite theologians and preachers. But with regard to Lazarus, I disagree with him as I disagree with most of my fellow Lutherans. The heart of the matter lies in the sentence, “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.”
    Our Lord said (Matthew 22:32), “He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” Just as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all of whom had “died”, are counted among the living, so Lazarus, who had “died” was among the living also. It is just that Lazarus, as his namesake in the parable, was not living on this earth, but was “in the bosom of Abraham”. Whether you call it that, or Paradise, or the Kingdom of Heaven, it is the place for which all of God’s children are destined. When it came time for our Lord to return to that place, did He ask His Disciples to weep and mourn for Him? Most certainly not! He said, John 14:28, “If you loved me you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.” So why should He weep because Lazarus had gone to the Father? He did not! He wept because He was going to bring Lazarus back from the place of infinite joy to the world of sin and suffering. Our Lord never wept for Himself; He wept because of the suffering of others. He knew that it was Lazarus who would pay the price, so that centuries later God’s people could hear the words, John 11:25, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.” If our Lord wept because Lazarus had died, then St. Paul would not be able to say, Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
    The Orthodox requiem (in Russian, otpevanie, “to sing off”) is one of the most joyous services for the dead of any Christian denomination. There are more Hallelujahs in it then Lutherans say on Easter Sunday. It is what our Lord had in mind for Lazarus, if He did not have to raise Him back to life in this world. Indeed He wept because He had pity on Him, but not because he had gone to the Father.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  2. George, I do not believe that I was quoting Fr. Schemann to represent the one and only dogmatic exegesis of this particular passage. I have heard everything that you have said before and I thank you for writing. My priest read this excerpt during the homily and it really hit home because of just how it really leads in to the via dolorosa of Holy Week.