Saturday, April 19, 2008

Have Hope, Our Life Depends Upon It!

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ: As a child and still today, it never ceases to amaze me how time flies. It seems like just yesterday that we were dancing at the Apokreatiko Glendi. It seems like just yesterday that we gathered in this Church to seek forgiveness as we prepared to begin Great Lent. And it was just yesterday that all the fasting, all the extra services, all the preparation ended….or did it?

Today is the Saturday of Lazarus and we celebrate the final miracle of Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ before His glorious Passion. Today is a day of celebration along with tomorrow that provides us not only a brief relief from our strict fasting, but also directs our attention forward to next week and the dimly lit Church as we gather each night anticipating the Betrayal, Judgment, Crucifixion, Death, Burial and finally one week from tonight we will gather to celebrate the Glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the next several days, we will come here each morning and each evening with one focus – to anticipate Pascha!

Before I get ahead of myself, though, allow me to spend a few moments celebrating this wonderful miracle we celebrate today. In the Gospel of John we see Christ with His Disciples when news comes to Him that His friend Lazarus is ill. We would expect Him to go to Lazarus, as I’m sure the disciples expected, and heal him. What do we find instead? Jesus delays, and Lazarus dies. How often do we send news to Him that we are ill or need His help? Does He delay? It seems so, but we should take courage, or at least comfort, in the story of Lazarus in today’s Gospel. We are told Martha and Mary “sent to him saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’” (John 11.3) and yet He still delayed. How can there be comfort in this? Aren’t we taught Jesus loves us? Aren’t we taught God will not abandon us? How could we possibly take comfort in this?

My Brothers and Sisters, we can take comfort knowing that God knew Lazarus would return. He knew that the sorrow Martha and Mary felt was only temporary. We should also look to Martha and Mary as examples of how we should respond to God in those moments when we feel as though He is not paying enough attention to us. John reveals that Martha and Mary don’t ‘serve Jesus a helping’ of guilt, but honestly express to Him their lack of faith. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11.21) are the words Martha uses. See how much she trusts Jesus to be honest with Him? This should be our response! God doesn’t expect us to always understand why He chooses to do what He does but He does want us to have hope in Him.

It is hope that is the central theme I wish to share with you this morning. As we celebrate the Saturday of Lazarus we should have hope in the mission of Christ – to save each and every one of us. He will not stop doing anything in His power until He has saved us. We have just spent seven weeks fasting and praying, and I hope a little almsgiving too, in an effort to place our relationship with Him above our relationship with the world. It is our relationship with Him that will get us through those tough moments. Imagine how Lazarus’ sisters must have felt knowing that Jesus didn’t even come to help their brother. Their pain must have been deep but ultimately it was their relationship with Him that was comfort for their pain.

For now, though, we cannot see their pain, because we see Lazarus being raised from the dead. We cannot see their pain, because we are already anticipating Palm Sunday tomorrow when we will all wave our palms and declare “Hosanna in the highest!” We cannot see their pain, because the Church has provided us a brief time to celebrate the Feast before embarking upon the next seven days.

The next seven days, we will see pain all right and some of it might even be our own. We will kneel, we will fast, and we will strain to see our Holy Week Books in the darkness of the Church. As we sang last night at Vespers, “Grant us also to behold the Holy Week of Thy Passion.” This is the main purpose of today. The Saturday of Lazarus is about Christ, it is not about Martha or Mary or Lazarus or even about us but not in a negative way. We don’t look at the next seven days grunting and bearing our teeth without looking ahead to next Saturday night!

Next Saturday night is the Feast of Feasts – Pascha! We will never be able to bear the pain of the next seven days without keeping our focus on Pascha, just as Martha and Mary could not have possibly dealt with their sorrow without knowing that anything was possible when Jesus was involved. Remember when we were young how often we thought we would never get through a project in college or we would never be able to learn how to ride a bike? What got us through then? The same thing will get us through not only the next seven days, but any of our pain – keeping our focus.

We must keep our focus on God if we are going to survive even the most mundane tasks in our lives. Look again to the Gospel and see what it says about Mary: “It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair.” (John 11.2) Do you remember the scene? Jesus was visiting and Mary was kneeling at His feet. Does this look like a woman who didn’t have the right focus? It should come as no surprise then that she was able to remain focused upon God and went running to Him when He arrived. She did not sit and dwell upon her grief because she knew His power.

We too know His Power, especially now that we have witnessed the miracle ourselves. Will it be possible then to spend the next seven days focused upon God rather than complaining about the long hours we are in Church or how much our knees hurt? My brothers and sisters in Christ, this is the purpose of today’s Feast. The Church places this Feast, yes a rest from fasting, but more than that! Here today so we can be comforted by the Power of God in all things. If God could raise Lazarus from the dead, could He not also help us?

Could God not also help us in our need at work, at school, or at home among our families? We must have hope my dear brothers and sisters! We must have hope that no matter what our problems, no matter how much we think God may have forgotten us, no matter how much we think He is ignoring us…..He will help us just as He helped Lazarus. We must have hope that Jesus Christ, who raised Lazarus from the dead after four days, the same Jesus that tomorrow we will declare the King of Glory, we must have hope that He will save us. Our life depends upon it.

Kalo Pascha!

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