Sunday, April 12, 2015

He hath trampled down death by His death

And bestowed life to those in the tombs.

Our waiting has been turned into joy and excitement at hearing the Gospel according to St. Mark announcing that the Lord was no longer in the tomb that He has arisen.   Death is no longer able to keep us captive.  We, too, will arise.  And after judgment, we will be enjoy alongside of Him the first fruits of a life in Christ.
  Let us go forth joyously and say "Christ is Risen."  Kalo Pascha.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

And now...we wait

Ever since His triumphant entry into Jerusalem with cries of Hosanna and Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord,  we have followed with the Lord every step of the way.  We kept watch for the Bridegroom to come like the ten virgins, we have been there at the cursing of the fig tree, we have been seen how the Lord will revile those who do not use the talents entrusted to them, we have been with Christ at his Last Supper, with Him at His betrayal by Judas, listened to Him speak about the hardships that necessarily come from being His Apostle and servant, watched Him as Master wash the feet of His servants, watched Him as He was tried like a common criminal by the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Herod, the denial of Him three times by Peter, His scourging, His agony, His ridicule, His march to Gologotha, His pleas that no one weep for Him,  His Crucifixion, His prayer for forgiveness to His Crucifiers, His bestowal of eternal life on the good thief, entrusting John the care of His mother, His cry of agony to His Father, His death, His piercing by the Spear, the oupouring of both blood and water, the confession of the Roman centurion, the destruction of the temple, the trembling of the earth, the sun blackened, the dead rising from their tombs, the tempest, His taking down from the Cross and entombment by Joseph of Arimethea and, today, His Harrowing of Hades, preaching to those already dead.  And now...we wait.

We have fasted, we have prayed, we have given alms, we have sacrificed time from our pursuits and even our families, we have denied ourselves some of our simple pleasures.  And now...we wait.

We wait as the excitement for our Lord's Resurrection as celebrated in the Rush and the Divine Liturgy is but only half a day away.  But still, we must wait.  We must not get ahead of ourselves.

The waiting IS the hardest part. You don't need Tom Petty to tell you that (although it is a pretty nice song).  His Resurrection will come.  And it will bestow eternal life to those in the tombs.  But now, we wait...and wait some more.  But, it WILL come.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Not Getting What You Expected

In a remote area of England following the end of the First World War, a small country school  was given great news:  the King of England himself would be making a stop at the train station of their little town during his tour.  The children were excited like it was Christmas but unlike Santa Claus, they would actually be able to see their king in the flesh.  For the next few days, the children were busy making signs and greeting cards and decorating other knickknacks to present to the king.  At last the great day arrived and the king's train pulled into their little train station.  The children could barely contain their excitement when at last the door to the last passenger car. which had the Royal Seal on it, opened.  The King of England himself stood before the schoolchildren who were clapping, shouting and smiling like it was the best day of their life.  Several kids were able to give the cards they had made to the king and it was clear that he was very grateful for such an enthusiastic response.  After a few minutes, he waved again from his passenger car, got back in and the train left.  The schoolchildren were still left in a state of shock and awe after having witnessed such a spectacle.  The teachers rounded up the kids and were taking them back to school when one of the teachers noticed one child in tears and clearly upset.  She approached the little boy and asked him what was wrong.  He responded, "I didn't see a king today.  All I saw was a man in a suit."

Today, the Orthodox Church celebrates Palm Sunday, the triumphant entry of Jesus into the Holy City Jerusalem.  In front of him, cheering throngs received Him as He was carried in by an ass' foal.  The crowd laid down palms to mark his way.  Children shouted and sang "Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!"  The joy and excitement which overtook this crowd so suddenly about this prophet from Nazareth did not look like it would dissipate soon.  But, it did. For we know the rest of the story:  Betrayal, Trial, Agony, Suffering, Crucifixion, Death, Burial.

The throng that had greeted Jesus as He entered was awaiting the Messiah who would bring about a new golden age for the Jews and would start by ending the tyranny of Rome which had ruled over their country now for nearly a century.  Before the Romans, it was the Seleucids.  Before them, the Persians. Before them, the Babylonians. Before them, the Assyrians.  Before them, Philistines. Before them, Amalekites, Canaanites, etc. Before them, Egyptians.  The Jews knew suffering and oppression.  Maybe now, just now, with this prophet coming into the Holy City to celebrate the Passover, a time of deliverance from one of Israel's enemies,  the people were gazing upon the very man who would deliver them from any more suffering. Unfortunately, what they expected they did not receive.

I'm sure Christ Himself was confused as to just how wrong these people were, but He didn't stop to tell them that their reason for celebration and expectations were wrong.  For, as the Scripture says, which serves as the Orthros Prokeimenon for this day, "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, Thou hast perfected praise."  They were rejoicing, which was right, but for the wrong reasons.  They all had an image of a conquering King, which was right, but wrong in what He was going to conquer.  And how quickly that joy and exultation turned to disbelief, anger and even hatred.  How quickly those cries of "Hosanna" changed to "Crucify Him!"

Such is the problem when people believe in an idea.  The idea may well be fine but not manifest in itself in the way you have hoped and prayed for.  I'm sure that was the issue for the Jews who greeted Jesus on Palm Sunday.  The problem with believing in ideas is that the idea itself doesn't care if you believe it or not.  That is why it is so dangerous, even in our postmodern culture, to reduce God with whom we can communicate personally to a mere idea.  Many people will say that they don't believe in God, but like the idea of God.  They like the idea of a God who is love, is compassion, is mercy is whatever good noun you can think of.  But, ideas cannot love you back.  Ideas cannot be compassionate or merciful with you.  Ideas don't work that way.  The Jewish people who had been suffering for so long were looking for an idea to save them.  God saves; ideas about Him do not. God loves; love as an idea does not love you back.

When that idea does not turn out as you would expect, it's very easy to immediately give in to anger, hatred, indifference, hardness of heart, etc.  Such a phenomenon doesn't just occur to Jesus on Palm Sunday, but happens all the time.  We have an idea of how the heroes of our culture are supposed to act and behave, but then react incredulously when we realize that they are just as sick and twisted as the rest of us.

Fortunately, for us, God does not and did not carry a grudge at those who had a false idea about what His Son would do.  Jesus still enters the city. He still is crucified and buried.  And He still rises on the third day.  A lesser God or a better man may well have reacted to the cheers and the laying of palms on the ground with "You have got it all wrong. And because you have it all wrong, you're not getting anything now!  I'm going home!"  But He didn't do that. His crucifixion and death and burial and resurrection were still for all.  Remember that even His Apostles still did not know what was going on.  The myrrhbearing women had to tell them and remind them of what Jesus had preached for all this time leading up to His Passion.   

As we enter into Holy Week, we know that we will receive what we expect:  The Lord, Resurrected, Triumphant over Death for us. For us.  FOR US and our salvation.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Why does Jesus weep at Lazarus' tomb?

The Orthodox faithful have now reached the end of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week.  In a way, today and tomorrow are small, short-lived breaks or feasts, prior to the trial, agony, suffering, scourging, crucifixion, death, burial and triumph over Hades of Jesus before His Resurrection.  Today, we commemorate the rising of Lazarus from the dead, an event only recorded in the Gospel according to St. John, an event that occurred before His triumphal entry into Jerusalem where He would be humiliated and sentenced to a horrible death. 

The story is familiar to most people and its entirety is read today at Liturgy as the appointed Gospel reading.  It is some 45 verses long; a little longer than most Gospel readings.  However, as I was standing there, my thoughts concentrated only on one verse which has only two words:  Jesus wept (verse 35).  In context, it makes perfect sense.  In the verses prior, Mary was weeping as she chastised Jesus for not being present while Lazarus was still alive, although ill.  The company of Jews who had come to console her were also weeping.  There was a lot of weeping all around.

Why does Jesus weep?  There is no shortage of explanations, some of which can be found here.  The Canon written by St. Andrew of Crete which is appointed to be read at Compline the night before unambiguously attributes Jesus' weeping to His human nature which contrasts with His Divine Nature which allows Christ to raise Lazarus from the dead after four days.  Perhaps Jesus was weeping because it is perfectly acceptable to do so at a funeral as many of us know. Or perhaps Jesus wept simply because He knew that death was a tragic consequence of the sin that our parents, Adam and Eve, dared to commit in paradise.  If I dare to be presumptuous, maybe Jesus will weep over my tomb.

Though no theologian, I would posit a slightly different reason for Jesus' weeping though it is based on several of the explanations above.  As I wrote earlier, Jesus' raising of Lazarus occurs before His entry into Jerusalem and thus also right before His Trial, His Suffering, His Crucifixion, His Death and His Burial.  Before he was betrayed by Judas and lead by the guards to Pilate, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsamene that His Father would let this cup pass from Him, that there could be a way out.  Of course, Christ goes on to pray, saying "Let Thine, not mine, be done."  Even on the Cross, Christ cries out in agony "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"  There are no shortages of instances in the Gospel according to St. John where Jesus shows us that He is even afraid, scared to death, as it were.  I think that his weeping as he stands before Lazarus' tomb may indicate that He is frightened of the impending death and burial that is to await even Him in but a few short days.

Of course, this is only a guess.  St. John the Theologian doesn't explain why Jesus wept and maybe the question itself is, in the scheme of things, an unimportant one.  However, as we embark upon Holy Week and a walk with Christ in His suffering, crucifixion, death and burial, even though we know the joyous outcome of all of this, maybe we are called to weep before His tomb as He did at Lazarus' and even our own.