Fr Luke A Veronis
Jesus’ earthly life and ministry is coming to an end. For three years, He inspired people with His words of wisdom. With his simple parables and stories, He revealed the great secrets of the kingdom of heaven. He amazed the crowds with his miracles, signs and wonders. Many began seeing Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, the Anointed One about whom the prophets spoke. Such a Messiah, they hoped, would usher in a new reign in the world, the kingdom of God!
In preparation for His arrival in Jerusalem during the Passover feast, Jesus visits His good friends, Lazarus, Mary and Martha but unfortunately Lazarus had died. He was buried in the tomb and dead four days! Mary and Martha were in the midst of the seven day Shiva, the Jewish mourning custom, welcoming their family and friends who came to express their sorrow and condolences.
Imagine the shock, the wonder, the excitement when Jesus comes not simply to pay condolences, but to cry out “Lazarus, Come forth,” raising him out of the tomb! Among Jesus’ many miracles, He previously raised a young girl who had just died as well as the son of a widow who was being carried out of the city for burial. Yet here Jesus confronts someone dead and buried in a tomb for four days! Even Martha is confused and questions Jesus when he asked that the tomb be opened because she is afraid of the terrible odor, the smell of death and decay.
Yet, Jesus proclaims to Martha “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
Do we understand these words? Do we truly believe the Jesus is “the resurrection and the life” and that He holds control over death itself? In today’s hymn for Palm Sunday, we sing, “By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your passion, You confirmed the universal resurrection, O Christ God! Like the children with the palms of victory, we cry out to You, O Vanquisher of death: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!”
Jesus “confirmed the universal resurrection” because He is “the Vanquisher of death!” The resurrection of Lazarus is simply the precursor to what we will celebrate this upcoming week. We are preparing to journey through the holiest week of the year as we take part in the great Mystery of Christ’s Passion, Suffering, and Death. Yet, we all know how it will end – in His glorious Resurrection. “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
We relive this every year during our Holy Week and Pascha celebrations! Yet, do we truly understand and believe? Not simply with an intellectual belief of Jesus rising from the dead but do we orient our entire lives around the One who said “I am the resurrection and the life.”
We live in a society that more often than not tries to ignore death. We don’t want to think of this final reality for all of us. Even as we get older we try to make ourselves look young and don’t want to talk about death. Just like Martha, we are afraid of the terrible odor, the horrible smell of death and decay. So, we try to ignore it. And yet, we all will die like Lazarus one day and be laid in a tomb. Unfortunately, too many of us taste death even before our bodily death. So many people live in a “living hell” because of their own sinfulness and brokenness and experience death in this life. Well, today on Palm Sunday, Christ is here to call out to each one of us – Luke/John/ Maria/Sophia come forth! Come out of the tomb in which you suffer and discover life! For I am the resurrection and the life!
Back to the story of today. The crowd that gathered at Mary and Martha’s house for shiva interrupted their mourning to shockingly witness Lazarus come out of a tomb after four days! Word spread quickly about this Prophet from Nazareth whom claimed to be the “resurrection and life.” This Messiah, the word spread, even raises the dead! So throngs of people began to surround Him and walk with Him as He enters Jerusalem. They cry out, “Hosanna to God in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” They wave palm branches as a sign of their king entering into the holy city. They hope and believe this Messiah will usher in a new world order!
Yet what happens? Why do the crowds joyously praise Him one day and reject him a few days later, choosing to join the corrupt religious leaders who cry out “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
The more important question is why do WE do the same thing, praising Him one day and rejecting Him the next? Look at how full our churches are for Palm Sunday, Holy Wednesday, Good Friday, and then Pascha Sunday with people praising our Lord and God, yet after this sacred week, how many of us disappear from the Church and push aside any faith in the Risen One, choosing to listen to and follow the alluring and deceptive ways of the world.
Jesus Christ, the Resurrection and the Life, calls us to come out of our tomb of death and truly experience life in a divine way. He invites each one of us to receive Him and taste of immortal life! Yet, we don’t like His path to life because it is counter-cultural, a path contrary to the ways of the world. To truly follow Christ and discover life as He offers it, we must follow His path:
· If we want to be first, we must be last; we must not seek to be served but to serve others
· If we want to follow Christ, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross of sacrifice
· If we truly love Jesus, we must love our enemies and forgive even those who hurt us
· If we call Christ our Lord and Teacher, we need to wash one another’s feet, as He washed ours
· If we want to discover life, we must be ready to lose our life for the sake of Jesus
· If we want to welcome Jesus to live in our hearts, we must welcome the stranger, the foreigner, and even our enemy into our hearts
· If we want to experience the forgiveness of God, then we must forgive as He forgives, even forgiving up to 70 x 7
· If we want to taste God’s glory, we can only discover this glory through the path of humility
· If we want to understand God’s sacrificial love for the world, then we must be ready to sacrifice for others.
· The path of Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life is a path of simplicity and contentment, learning to live with less so that we can give more
Do we want to follow the One who proclaims “I am the Resurrection and the Life?” Today, on this Palm Sunday, let us cry out with the crowds “Hosanna to God in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” We will, however, learn what it truly means to follow our Lord Jesus and discover life in its fullest form, accepting life in the way that God created us to experience it – with love, with sacrifice, with self-denial, sometimes with suffering – yet with ultimate victory.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
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