Today is the last day of Great Lent for Orthodox Christians. Tomorrow begins the journey through Holy Week, climaxing with Pascha on April 19.
Our family is preparing to attend a special service tonight that marks the transition from Great Lent to Holy Week. It’s called The Service of Little Compline with the Canon to Lazarus the Righteous. It anticipates tomorrow, Lazarus Saturday, when we celebrate Christ raising Lazarus as a taste of the soon-arriving Resurrection of Christ.
There’s a portion in tonight’s Canon that I love. In the hymn, Hell is personified at the moment when Christ raises Lazarus:
“I implore thee, Lazarus,” said Hell, “Rise up, depart quickly from my bonds and be gone. It is better for me to lament bitterly for the loss of one, rather than of all those whom I swallowed in my hunger.”
“Why dost thou delay, Lazarus?” cried Hell. “Thy Friend stands calling to thee: ‘Come out’ Go, then, and I too shall feel relief. For since I swallowed thee, all other food is loathsome to me.”
“O Lazarus, why dost thou not rise up swiftly?” cried Hell below, lamenting. “Why dost thou not run straightway from this place? Lest Christ take prisoner the others, after raising thee.”
I love it! Because of Christ, Lazarus gives Hell a four-day tummy-ache. The life of Christ gives Hell indigestion. And releasing Lazarus brings little relief. For in less than a week, Hell will swallow the Undying One. And the life of God will surge forth releasing all from Hell’s gullet.
You can almost hear the Paschal hymn whispering from the future:
“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”