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A lesson from Lazarus

Many of us make every effort to improve the conditions of our earthly life, fighting the reality that this life will someday end. Amelia finds a hidden lesson in the story of Lazarus' resurrection that encourages us to focus more on eternity than the present.
Lazarus Saturday, 2012

From the moment we're born, our bodies begin to die. Naturally, bodily decay wasn't part of God's original design; He intended for us to live forever in a state of perfection. The ailments and accidents that ultimately take us to the grave are merely a consequence of man's fall from grace.

In the Orthodox Church, Great Lent comes to a close tomorrow. In another week, we'll be eating, drinking, and dancing in celebration of Christ's resurrection and victory over death—the only hope we have in an eternity without sickness, sorrow, or sighing. During the week in between, however—Passion Week, our focus shifts to the suffering and death that our Lord had to endure before any resurrection could take place.

A lot of Christians today like to focus only on the hope of Christianity, all the while forgetting about the cross. The hope is certainly important; without it, there's no point in having faith. Without the cross, though, there's likewise no point. Without suffering and death, who has any need of a resurrection?

In one of today's Gospel readings (the other was for the Annunciation), we hear the story of a man named Lazarus who got sick and died. His family and friends mourned for him. Even the Lord wept—as a man, He grieved the loss of His friend; as God, He showed His compassion for mankind. Even though Lazarus was a righteous man, he wasn't exempt from suffering or death.

While all were caught up in mourning, the Lord called everyone to gather at the tomb where Lazarus had been laid to rest, and told them to roll away the stone that served as the tomb's door. To show them that He was indeed God, He commanded the four-days-dead Lazarus to arise and come out of the tomb. Breathing, walking, and very much alive, Lazarus emerged from the tomb, still bound in the grave-linens in which he'd been wrapped when he was buried.

The resurrection of Lazarus accomplished two things: 1) It demonstrated the power and authority of the Son of God, and 2) it foreshadowed the death and resurrection of the Lord, which was to take place very soon thereafter.

Next week, the Orthodox church services and readings call our attention primarily to the many, unjust sufferings that our Lord had to endure as a result of man's continued sinfulness—something that contemporary Christians sometimes like to gloss over. If our perfect and sinless Lord wasn't exempt from human suffering, we who are laden with sins really have no right to feel entitled to some sort of exemption for ourselves.

While both Christ and Lazarus died and resurrected from their graves, there's at least one important difference: Inside the Lord's tomb, the linens that had been wrapped around His dead body were found lying on the slab where He had been laid; Lazarus, however, arose still wearing his.

What this symbolizes for us is that, unlike the immortal Christ, Lazarus was still mortal, still destined to die an earthly death, despite the glorious miracle. The Lord healed his body temporarily but didn't make it immortal. Immortality is due, of course—this is the basis of all Christian hope and faith—but not until the Second Coming of Christ.

When that time comes, the faithful and righteous will be healed in a way we can't comprehend right now, a way that lasts forever. Until then, however, the reality is that we're all here on borrowed time. While we should do what we can to stay as safe and healthy as possible, it's important that we don't make a false god out of our bodies. There's only so much physical care and comfort we need. What's more important is to care for the health and well-being of our souls.

Sometimes it's hard to remember and focus on that. It's easier to count on "protective" measures like having health insurance, well-credentialed doctors, and good prescription drug coverage. And it's easier to console ourselves with nice restaurants, comfortable homes, and relaxing vacations. If there was ever a time to forget about these things, however, and to give more care to the soul than to the body, that time is now.

We have one day left in Great Lent. Even if we've botched the fast up until now, it's not too late to start over. There's still another week to go before Pascha. During that time, we shouldn't fixate so much on what's wrong with our worldly lives. Instead, we should focus more on whatever might be wrong in our spiritual lives and work on fixing that. After all, we wouldn't need any resurrection if our health and happiness here and now were all that mattered.