We have completed the forty days of Great Lent and are ready to enter Holy Week. Yesterday, we celebrated Jesus raising Lazarus on the fourth day and today we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant and final entry into Jerusalem. Both Feasts served as a bridge, connecting Great Lent with Holy Week. Technically, they are not part of Great Lent or Holy Week. However, they lead us into Holy Week and are a foretaste of what is expected in the coming days.
The Raising of Lazarus is a prelude of the Common Resurrection (Κοινήν Ανάστασιν) that we will experience just before the Last Judgment, in Christ’s Second Coming. As we heard yesterday at matins: The joy of all men, the Truth who is Christ our God, the light and the life, the resurrection of the world has appeared unto those on earth, in that He is benevolent, becoming the type of the Resurrection, and granting divine remission unto all (Festal Kontakion).
It was believed in Semitic culture that it was possible for someone who perished to be resuscitated back to life within three days. However, by the fourth day the body would start to decay and there would be a noxious odor. There was no chance of being resuscitated back to life by the fourth day. So, when He heard that he [Lazarus] was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was
(Jn 11:6). Jesus delayed coming to Bethany intentionally in order for Lazarus to be dead long enough that the corruption of his body could set in. This would leave no doubt that Lazarus was resurrected from the dead and not just resuscitated back to life. For Christ said: I am the resurrection and the life
Christ raising Lazarus from the dead accentuates not only His divinity but points toward His own Resurrection. “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth (ibid, 43-44). This command by Jesus to Lazarus, to come forth signifies the power of the Creator over His creation. Thus, the crown of His creation is mankind. Then God formed man out of dust from the ground, and breathed in his face the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7).
St Paul refers to these same words of Jesus when explaining the Common Resurrection on the Last Day: For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus, we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thess 4:16-17). The Lord Himself will command all the departed on the Last Day to come forth from their tombs.
Lazarus comes forth from his tomb wrapped with graveclothes, since he will again need them. Although he was raised from the dead, it was temporary. Years later, Lazarus died in Cyprus and so he awaits the Common Resurrection with the rest of mankind. For Christ, His graveclothes were left behind in His Tomb since His Resurrection is eternal. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God (Rom 6:10).
The Raising of Lazarus sets the stage for Christ’s Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. Therefore, the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. For this reason, the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign (ibid, 12:17-18).
Christ’s fame spread rather quickly from when He raised Lazarus from the dead. Certainly the Pharisees felt threatened by this. They were among the many who expected an earthly king to come to liberate Israel from Roman occupation. The Jews expected their king to arrive on a chariot, not on a donkey. For they did not know the Scriptures as well as they thought: Rejoice, greatly, O daughter of Zion! Proclaim it aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King comes to you; He is righteous and saving; He is gentle and mounted upon a donkey, even a young foal. He will utterly destroy the chariots out of Ephraim and the horse out of Jerusalem. The bow of war shall be utterly destroyed, and there shall be abundance and peace among the nations. He shall rule over the waters as far as the sea and over the rivers to the ends of the earth (Zechariah 9:9-10).
According to Justin Martyr, the Prophet Zechariah confirmed what Jacob had predicted: The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from his loins, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the expectation of the nations. Binding his colt to a vine, and his donkey’s colt to its branch, He will wash his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes, His eyes are gladdened from the wine, and his teeth are whiter than milk (Gn 49:10-12).
The donkey that Christ entered Jerusalem on had never been sat on before, signifying that He is the Coming One, the Messiah. He became Incarnate through the Womb of a Virgin and Resurrected from a Tomb, hewn out of the rock (Mt 27:60) that had never been used before. Everything pertaining to the Lord must be pure and unique.
Just as the great multitude that awaited Jesus in Jerusalem raised their palm branches, so do we today in like manner. By this, we affirm our own baptism and faith in Christ. Hosanna in Hebrew means: Save, we pray!
Palms and willow branches are symbols of victory and although the ultimate victory will be His Resurrection, Jesus’ triumphant and final entry into Jerusalem is a foreshadowing, a taste of what is to come in a few days.
Tonight, we enter Holy Week at the 1st Bridegroom Matins (Ο Νυμφίος) with the Troparion: Behold, the Bridegroom is coming in the middle of the night; and blessed is the servant He shall find awake and watching; unworthy is the other He shall find being lazy. So beware, O soul of mine, be not overcome by sleep, so that you not be handed over to death and be shut out from the Kingdom. Come to your senses and cry aloud: Holy, Holy, Holy are You our God. By the protection of the Bodiless Hosts have mercy on us.
Let us all journey through this week with Christ, following Him through His Passion, His Crucifixion and His Burial. Just as we raised our palms and willow branches in triumph this morning, likewise, in one week’s time, we will raise our Paschal candles and exclaim: Christ is Risen!
A Blessed and Glorious Holy Week to all!
A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.
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