Sermon for the Feast of the Annunciation and Lazarus Saturday
“From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed for the Lord hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.” (Luke 1:46)
Brothers and sisters, St. Paul calls the time between the first and second comings of Our Lord, the “fullness of time” or, the “last times”. The Feast we keep today, the Annunciation of the Theotokos, initiates those times. We often hear the jeering taunt: “But every generation claims to be living in the “last times!” And that is correct! Every generation since the Incarnation of Christ IS living in the last times! We don’t, like some,
try to give the exact year, month and day; but we do claim with St. Paul, to be living in the last times.
“From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed…” No prophecy in the entire Bible has been fulfilled like this one has! But why? “…for the Lord hath regarded the HUMILITY of his handmaiden.”
It is not by some miracle such as the “Immaculate Conception” that the Theotokos is made worthy to become the Mother of God; but by being the humblest, the purest, the best of all human beings. This is why the Orthodox devotion to the Mother of God remains constant; whereas, in the West, no matter how many doctrines have been proclaimed since the “Papal Infallibility” to bolster that devotion; it waxes and wanes.
“And was Incarnate of the Holy Spirit AND the Virgin Mary…” (Nicene Creed). The West, both Protestant and Catholic, has incorrectly translated the Greek word “kai” (“and”), first into the Latin “ex” and then into English (“of”) making the Theotokos a passive and submissive object on which the Holy Spirit acts, rather than an active participant in synergy with the Holy Spirit. This is why an Orthodox bishop wears a panagia (medallion of the Virgin Mary) rather than a Cross, because he must imitate the Mother of God in bringing Christ to the world.
“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) This is the shortest verse in the Bible. All the Holy Fathers concur that it is not only because Lazarus was the friend of Jesus that Jesus wept for His friend, but because man, created in the image and likeness of God, had, by his disobedience, come to such a pass that Martha would say to Jesus: “Lord, by this time he stinketh.” (John 11:43).
Lazarus came out of the tomb wearing his grave clothes because he would be needing them again the Fathers say. Our Saviour left His behind in the tomb, because, according to St. Paul: “He dieth now no more; death hath no more dominion over him.” (Romans 6:9)
This gospel of the raising of Lazarus is found only in St. John, not in the three synoptics, Matthew, Mark and Luke, because it was taken for granted that everyone knew of this miracle and there was no need to write it down.
The Church quite explicitly calls Lazarus the “Four Days Dead” because it was the Jewish belief that the soul hovered around the body for three days, but by the fourth day there was no hope of resuscitation. Jairus daughter may have been called into question; and the son of the widow of Nain; but not Lazarus the “Four Days Dead”; for, as his sister said: “… he stinketh.”
We are impressed with the miracles of restoration to life, but we forget that all who were restored to life had to die again! Indeed, Lazarus died again as a bishop in Cyprus, where, a tombstone, discovered 1,000 years later, inscribed: “Lazarus, the four days dead, the friend of Christ” was found.
With the Vespers of Lazarus, Great Lent comes to an end. Today, with the Feast of the Annunciation and Lazarus together, we have on both Saturday and (Palm) Sunday, fish, wine and oil. These beautiful Feasts are a joyous interlude between Lent and Holy Week. Let us prepare our souls to go up to Jerusalem so that we may stand beneath the Cross of Jesus…. but this time, without abandoning Him!
(This sermon was preached in 2001 when the Annunciation and Lazarus Saturday fell on the same day.)