For those following the Byzantine Rite, today is Lazarus Saturday, which recalls the narrative of Christ raising his friend Lazarus from the dead after four days in the tomb. It is a liturgical commemoration that rests between the sorrowful days of Great Lent and the joyful Resurrection of Our Lord while pointing beyond itself to the General Resurrection. This liturgical day, like the Gospel account which undergirds it, is unique insofar as it brings into sharp relief both the humanity (“Jesus wept”) and divinity (“Lazarus, come forth”) of Christ.
As with all things Byzantine, this day can be invested with all sorts of spiritual meaning, some less saccharine and more sober than others. Many Orthodox Christians in particular will likely recall the scene from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment where Sonya reads Raskolnikov the Lazarus pericope, perhaps compelling them to connect the death due to their own sinfulness with the need for Christ’s love to overcome it. Lazarus, who by virtue of his friendship with Our Lord, most likely lived a far less sinful life than you and I, and yet he was condemned to death—that gross interruption in God’s plan for us brought into the world by our first parents and perpetuated to this very day. Lazarus, a holy man, still perished; he suffered a death that only the command of Christ could overcome. It is the same death we are all doomed to suffer, without prior knowledge of when, where, or how it will occur. All that we know, all that we can know, is that it will be Christ alone who calls us forth from the tomb to eternal life, one spent either with Him in bliss or with Satan in eternal torment.
If, like me, you have maintained the time honored tradition of having a bad Lent, one where the devil rides you hard and all of the spiritual commitments, sacrifices, and personal reforms you set out to accomplish go by the wayside before the Sunday of Orthodoxy, Lazarus Saturday holds out the hope of new life in the Lord. After being spiritually dead in the tomb of life’s distractions, petty trials, and fuss, Jesus still desires that we come forth to join him on Palm Sunday for his triumphant procession into Jerusalem and then to suffer by His side in Holy Week. We do not have to wait for the 11th hour; there is still time to labor for Christ, to pick up our cross and follow Him to Golgotha, to recollect ourselves in the anticipation of Holy Saturday, and rejoice with the Blessed Mother of God in the Resurrection of her Son on the third day. The only question that must be answered on this day is if we will respond to Jesus’ call and come forth, or opt instead to wallow in the darkness of our own sinfulness by refusing His love.