Saturday of Lazarus and Palm Sunday
The solemnities of Great Week are preceded by a two-day festival commemorating the resurrection of Lazarus and the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem.
It is significant that Holy Week begins with Christ resurrecting Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, personifies each one of us, for we are all friends of Jesus. With Lazarus’ resurrection, “death begins to tremble.” Thus begins Holy Week–the decisive duel between Life and Death–a duel that will end with the final victory of Life over Death at Pascha.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus is acknowledged and acclaimed as the Messiah, the King, and Redeemer of Israel. With palm branches in our hands, we identify with the people of Jerusalem. Together with them, we greet Christ and confess Him to be our King.
The first part of Great Week presents us with an array of themes based chiefly on the last days of Jesus’ earthly life. The name, Bridegroom Service, comes from the central figure in the well-known parable of the ten virgins (Mt. 25:1-13). The troparion “Behold the Bridegroom cometh at midnight…” sung at each service relates us to the existential expectation: watching and waiting for the Lord, who will come again to judge the living and the dead.
On Sunday evening, we commemorate Joseph the Patriarch, the beloved son of Jacob (Gen. 37-50) and the cursing of the fig tree (Mt. 21:18-20). On Monday evening, we commemorate the parable of the ten virgins (Mt. 25:1-3) and the parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14-30). On Tuesday evening, we commemorate the sinful woman who anointed the head of Jesus shortly before His passion (Mt. 26:6-13) and Judas, the disciple who betrayed Christ.
“Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom He shall find awake. But he whom He shall find neglectful is verily unworthy. Behold therefore, my soul, beware, lest thou fall into deep slumber, and the door of the Kingdom be closed against thee, and thou be delivered unto death. But be thou wakeful, crying Holy! Holy! Holy! art Thou, O God. Through the intercessions of the Theotokos, have mercy on us.”
The Mystery of Holy Unction is established upon the word and actions of our Lord Jesus Christ. It embodies, extends, and continues His healing ministry. It is the sign of His transforming presence in a bruised and hurting world, and the emblem of His promise to deliver us from sin corruptions.
While at meal in the Upper Room, Jesus established and instituted the Mystery or Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. “Receive me today, O Son of God, as a partaker of Thy Mystical Supper…I will not give Thee a kiss as did Judas…Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom.”
On the evening of Holy Thursday, 12 selected Gospel lessons are read which tell the entire story of our Lord’s suffering and death. It includes His farewell talk to His disciples, His burial, and the sealing of the tomb. After the fifth Gospel lesson, the large cross and icon of the crucified Christ is carried to the center of the church to be venerated. “Today He is suspended on a tree, who suspended the earth above the waters….”
On Great Friday, we remember the ineffable mystery of Christ’s death. His death–tormenting, indiscriminate, universal–casts its cruel shado over all creation.
At vespers, the icon of the crucified Christ is removed from the cross and we remember the holy acts of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. At Lamentations, we sing the burial service of our Lord. “In a grave they laid Thee, O my Life and my Christ….”
On Great Saturday, the Church contemplates the mystery of the Lord’s descent into Hades, the place of the dead. Death, our ultimate enemy, is defeated from within. “He gave Himself as a ransom to death in which we were held captive, sold under sin. Descending into Hades through the cross, He loosed the bonds of death.”
Great and Holy Pascha
Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen! “Come receive the light from the Light that is never overtaken by night and glorify Christ who is risen from the dead. It is the day of resurrection. Be illumined people. Pascha! The Lord’s Pascha! From death unto life, from the earth to Paradise, has Christ our God led us, singing the song of victory. Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”
Taken from a St. John’s newsletter insert.