In the Byzantine tradition we celebrate two resurrections during the Great Week. The first is that of Lazarus, remembered on the first day of the celebration, the day before Palm Sunday. As recorded in Jn 11:1-44, Lazarus is restored to life by Jesus after he had been dead four days. This event was what brought the crowds to acclaim Jesus that first Palm Sunday (cf.. Jn 12:17-18).
The second resurrection is, of course, the resurrection of Christ which we are celebrating during these 40 days of Pascha. In a deeper sense, however, we should not describe both these events with the same word. In the case of Lazarus, his resurrection was really a resuscitation: a restoration to physical life. In the case of Christ, it was not a return to the form of life He had before. It was a transformation of that life, a transfiguring of ordinary human life to the life of glory.
Looking at tile icons of these feasts we find a graphic representation of the difference. In the Lazarus icon we see Christ pointing to the tomb, calling on Lazarus to return. The dead man, wrapped in the burial shroud, does just that. He comes out of the tomb, restored to his family and resumes ordinary life. In the paschal icon, an angel points to an empty tomb and all we see are the discarded funeral wrappings which held the now glorious body of Christ. There is no restoration, no ordinary life. The message is clear: while Lazarus has come back, Jesus has gone on.
These contrasting events have something to say about the style of community life we desire for our parishes. Most of our churches have experienced some kind of resurrection in the past few years, sometimes after an apparent – or even real death. Most, however, have experienced a restoration of life after the manner of Lazarus. They have been restored to a kind of physical life: new temples, new neighborhoods, new church appointments, halls, externals in the liturgical life. However it is the risen Christ, not the resurrected Lazarus who is the source and pattern of Christian life. We are called to enter into His resurrection life, to progress to life in the Spirit of God.
Resurrection life is life directed and permeated by the Spirit of God. For us, this is not something which comes automatically, without attention and a conscious effort to cooperate with what God wants to do for us. Life in Christ must become a focus for our activity: one on which we pray, reflect and share in faith. This holds for our personal lives and also for our common lives. At this time of year there are two common areas of activity which we need to submit to the Spirit of God: our evaluation of the past year and our planning for the year ahead.
It goes without saying that any parish program worthy of the name will conclude the season with an evaluation. As a rule, these tend to focus on the physical or ordinary life of the program:
- the time frame (we insist on a minimum of 1 hour actual class time, meaning l½ hours unless participants are coming directly from church);
- attendance (ways of positive reinforcement, contact with parents, etc.)
- scheduling, facilities, etc.
However there are several other questions, ultimately more pressing which we need to ask if our programs are to live on the level of the Spirit:
- teacher formation (are the catechists committed to their own growth both in the spiritual life as well in skills development?)
- fidelity to programs (Are the programs employed being used in a manner faithful to the spirit in which they are intended? For example, does every session of the children’s program include prayer at the icon corner, liturgical singing, and an activity for reinforcement?)
- liturgical participation (Do the catechetical programs lead to greater awareness of prayer and liturgical life. Do participants come to the rite with understanding or are they just going through the motions teacher wants?)
It is also time to plan for the year ahead (now, not two weeks before the program begins). Again, focus this planning not merely on the physical level but on that of the Spirit. First of all, plan to pray together for direction and growth. Discern where the program and the catechists in particular are going in the life of the Lord. Is He asking anything of you in this ministry? Are there any particular goals for the parish in the year ahead which should be reflected in the educational program?
As the summer nears, think of having an overnight of reflection for parish leadership – council officers, education coordinators, etc. – to reflect on these questions. Conduct it at a recreational facility, at parish expense, if at all possible (to say thank you!) or with the possibility of members’ families taking part for the fun of the outing.
The raising of Lazarus had a spectacular but limited effect. More to our point, after only two or three days those who had been so excited about this wonder had forgotten and rejected the Wonderworker. The new hall or icons may prove of passing interest, but only the life of the Spirit will touch the lives and hearts of the faithful. Let us examine the life of our community and of its catechetical program so that the more vital life of the risen Christ may be manifested in it.