Lent ends with Lazarus Saturday and Holy Week begins. I so identify with Lazarus. I have definitely felt four days dead on many occasion! I have also felt a bit like he looks in the icon. There he comes out of the tomb, waddling in his grave clothes, looking a little unsure whether this rising from the dead thing is actually a good idea. Sometimes it’s easier to just stay dead.
On this day, it is a Greek tradition to bake a sweet bread in the shape of Lazarus in his grave clothes called Lazarakia. I have tried to make the tradtional Lazarakia twice. Both years, the results were far from spectacular. I think I know what I did wrong both times, but I think my main problem is that I don’t have a strong Greek Yiayia to show me how its done!
So, this year, I took the inspiration of Lazarakia and did my own non-ethnic version. An ode to Lazarakia…in sugar cookie.
Definitely not traditional, but these guys were a hit after Liturgy this morning. Granted, they were slightly creepy looking, but that was part of their charm!
After Liturgy, we decorated the church with palms. The last few years, we have had several palm disasters. There was the year they looked so lush and perfect on Saturday, and then when we came in Sunday morning, they had shriveled up into nothing. We had to take them down, because they were a fire hazard. Last year, there was a palm shortage, and what we could get from the florist was far less than what we needed. It almost got a little ugly when there weren’t enough to go around!
This year, the palms were abundant. Such a wonderful thing. We strung bells on ribbon and tied them around groups of the palm branches. Tomorrow, everyone in the parish will get a palm to wave throughout the service. The tinkling of the bells and the swoosh of the palms will fill the air. We also folded individual pieces of the palms into crosses for the parishioners to take home and add to their icon corners.
At tonight’s Vespers service, we sang of Lazarus and the Triumphal Entry. Holy Week has a pair of resurrection bookends. We begin with today’s resurrection of Lazarus. We’ll end the week with the Resurrection of Christ. So much will come in between. The same people who cried, “Hosanna in the Highest!” also shouted “Crucify Him!’ just days apart. It is amazing how quickly the human heart drifts, wavers, changes, and transforms. Amazing that it’s possible, and so convicting to me. Back and forth. Extreme to extreme. I can see this in my own life. Lips filled with prayer one moment are dripping with angry words the next. A heart brimming with warm, fuzzy love on one day is a dark, brooding cauldron of selfishness the next. Like I said…sometimes it’s easier to just stay dead.
But in Christ, we are not dead. We are a new creation. The darkness. The tomb. The grave clothes. They’re gone. We are alive in Christ. If we choose to stay dead, then it’s just that…our choice. Christ calls to us to come forth from the tomb. To take off the binding entrapment of this life that keeps us wrapped up in the path that leads only to death. Even if we’re really, really dead…four days dead…stinking up the place and beyond the help of anyone anywhere, Christ can make us live again. He promises us that indeed He is the Resurrection and the Life.
So, we begin this week that is outside of normal time and space. We enter into the last days of the life of Christ. The Church provides a carefully and artfully crafted series of services that lay out the truths of the Faith. Layer upon layer, each day adds to the story, creating a beautiful portrait of the love of God.
I am so blessed and grateful that God willing, I will be able to take advantage of the nineteen services offered at my parish from Lazarus Saturday to Pascha. Nineteen chances to stand in church. Nineteen chances to hear and smell and feel the layers. School and work commitments will only allow Lonna and my husband to attend certain services. Homeschooling enables Jared, Hilary, and I to attend all of them. In years past, Hilary didn’t really complain much about church. She’s used to going to Sunday Liturgy, Saturday Vespers, and Wednesday Liturgy. A few more didn’t seem to rock her boat too much. This Lent, though, when the two additional services on Fridays started, she began to show some strain. I think her developing mind is realizing just how much time is involved with these extra services. She’s constantly asking, “How many times do we have to go to church today?” “How many times tomorrow?” Dear child, this is not the week to get fed up with church! I want to do everything I can to help her enjoy this time and not see it as a burden. First off, I’m playing around with an idea to help her have a tangible way to grasp the number of the services.
I took our Resurrection icon and laid it on a wire floral frame. I am in the process of crocheting nineteen flowers and a whole bunch of leaves. Every time we go to a service, Hilary can add a flower to the frame. On Pascha, we’ll have a fully decorated floral icon to display throughout the Paschal season. I’m still working out the logistics and will probably make adjustments, but I let her add two flowers today.
I have no idea of knowing if we’ll actually be able to go to all the services. Anything could happen, and besides…it’s not a contest. But the opportunity is there, so it our goal to take advantage of the opportunity if we’re able. Regardless, I try to make all the children realize that this is a week to slow down and pray. This is not just any other time. We will acknowledge that in the way we live our lives. This week will be different. We’ll pray in church as much as we’re able. We’ll pray at home and in every moment everywhere. We’ll focus our fasting and limit distractions. Shaking off the grave clothes, we’ll wiggle our way one day at a time out of the darkness and with the freshness of spring birth, we’ll step boldly into the Light.