Lazarus, Come Out!Posted: April 23, 2016
In the Orthodox Church, Lazarus Saturday marks the end of Lent. This day commemorates the resurrection of Jesus’ friend from the dead by Jesus’ command to the corpse, “Lazarus, come out!” The resurrection of Lazarus occurs a week before Jesus’ own death and resurrection. This miracle prefigures our Lord’s resurrection, and vividly demonstrates Jesus’ deity and authority — here authority over death itself.
The account of Lazarus’ resurrection takes up the majority of the eleventh chapter of St. John’s gospel (Jn 11: 1 — 44). There is a detail in St. John’s account of Lazarus’ resurrection that has always stuck out for me. Jesus comes to Lazarus’ tomb. Its entrance is secured by a large stone (Jn 11: 38).
Although the large stone could have been removed simply by his word, Jesus commands a number of men to remove the stone: “Jesus says, ‘remove the stone’” (Jn 11: 39). This detail’s significance has had this message for me: human beings are used by God as agents to accomplish his works in this world. The men involved did not bring about the miracle, but were far more than spectators. They were participants in this saving act of God!
Humanity was always intended to be participants in God’s actions. We were created to be image bears of God. As such we image God before all of creation — we are to tell creation what God is like. We are priests. As such we are to bear God to creation by our ministering actions, and bear creation to God by our prayers for creation. We are vice-regents. We are to lovingly govern creation in God’s behalf. We were always intended to be participants and mediators.
Several years ago, while working on my Master of Divinity degree in a Protestant seminary, there was a fellow seminarian who strongly held the opinion that no human being could be an agent who could bring God’s grace to another human being. I disagreed strongly with his position then, and I still do to this day. This is because his position puts forth a reductionistic faith, a truncated faith, and a negative anthropology, and is simply unscriptural. Let me give some examples of how humans bring about God’s presence and salvation to humanity and creation.
I was ordained a priest in the Orthodox Church by then Bishop, now Archbishop Benjamin. He laid his hands on me, and by the work of the Holy Spirit, I received the charism of priesthood, and a share in the High-priesthood of Jesus Christ. I now share in the two millennia old sacramental priesthood of the Church. By this charism of the Holy Spirit, I now am an agent of God’s grace and salvation by means of the Sacraments of the Church. My beloved friend and guitar instructor, Ann Herring, a Roman Catholic, once asked me how the priest is used by God in the Eucharist — what is my role? My answer: “the bread and wine do not become the Body and Blood of Christ because of me, but they cannot become so without me.” I am an active participant with the Holy Spirit to bring about this very miraculous and real change of humble material elements into the Body and Blood of Christ. I invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit to bring about the reality of Christ’s presence in this Sacrament. My Archbishop and I serve as a mediators.
The next example involves the greatest example of human participation, or mediation, in God’s saving acts. It is Mary’s role as Theotokos, or Mother of God. We read of her participation in St. Luke’s gospel:
And the angel said to her, “Fear not Mary,for you found grace from God. And behold, you shall become pregnant and you shall bear a son and you shall name him Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give to him the throne of his father David. And he shall rule over the house of Jacob forever, and his reign shall have no end. Then Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, for I know no man?” In answering the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the Power of the Most High shall overshadow you: therefore, the one begotten is holy and shall be called the Son of God…Then Mary said, “Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord: may it be done to me according to your word. And the angel departed from her (Luke 1: 30 — 35, 38).
By her obedience and consent, God the Son becomes fully human to bring salvation to all and all things. The Triune God needed Mary’s consent and would not act without it. She was the conduit and vessel for God the Son to take on human flesh and become Savior of all. By her participation with God, Mary served as mediator.
I return the the unnamed men involved with Lazarus’ resurrection. We do not know their names, or if they were followers of Christ. They were honored by Jesus’ call, and obeyed with their display of strength. Here is proof that one doesn’t have to be a clergyman, or even the holy Mother of God to be a mediator, a participant in an action of God. One needs to be present and willing.
One needs to be present and will to be a participant and mediator at all times, and in all situations no matter how mundane they may seem at the time. We, as God’s priests and image bearers are to bring God into every place and situation. We are to bring hope, healing, and peace to every person encountered — even it is with a simple smile or kind word. By seeing ourselves as participants and mediators of God’s mercy, love, and salvation, we can role away the stone (however small). God can then act through us and every metaphorical Lazarus can come out.