Lazarus Saturday

Liturgical Calendar

This post is the first in a series of articles on the Seasons, Sundays, and Feast Days that make up the Church’s liturgical calendar.  Feast Days are those days set aside by the Church to celebrate and commemorate martyrs, Christians of the past, events from the life of Christ, and other Biblical stories. Join us as we journey through the celebrations of the ancient Church.

At Redemption City Church, we plan our liturgy, preaching, and church life around the traditional Church calendar (also known as the Liturgical Calendar). We believe this is useful and healthy for a Christ-centered church and followers of Christ. In highlighting the traditional Feast Days as well, we do so in order to boast in Christ, and in Christ alone. These stories are centered on Him and we rejoice in celebrating His mighty wonders and deeds. 

You can find out more about the church calendar and why we follow it as a church in our previous article. 

Scripture Reading: John 11:1-44

What is Lazarus Saturday?

Lazarus Saturday is a feast day celebrated by the Church on the Saturday before Palm Sunday.  On Lazarus Saturday, the Church commemorates Christ’s greatest and last miracle before his death – the Raising of Lazarus.  In the story of the Raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44), we see both a foretelling of Christ’s own death and resurrection, and a promise that all of us will be raised to new life, “The resurrection of Lazarus is a prophecy in the form of an action. It foreshadows Christ’s own Resurrection eight days later, and at the same time it anticipates the resurrection of all the righteous on the Last Day.” Further, the account in John’s Gospel tells us about Christ’s humanity - “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) - and his divinity - “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43).  At the tomb of Lazarus, Christ weeps in solidarity with and for all those who grieve and proclaims that sorrow and death are not the end, for Christ is our end, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die!” (John 11: 25-26, NRSV).  

History

The earliest reference to the Lazarus Saturday service comes from the letters of Egeria, a Spanish nun, who journeyed to Jerusalem sometime between A.D. 381 and 384.  In one of her letters, Egeria records that on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, Christians from the Jerusalem church gathered at the Lazarium (the tomb where Lazarus was first buried), sang hymns and listened to a reading of the “Raising of Lazarus” from John’s Gospel. Scholars believe that by the end of the 4th-century, Lazarus Saturday was widely commemorated in the Church.

Liturgy

The following Feast Hymns for Lazarus Saturday were composed by St. John Chrysostom (A.D. 349-407) and are still sung in many Churches.  As you read the liturgy below, notice how the words victory, vanquisher, and death are used in the text. These words refer to an early Christian concept called Christus Victor (Victorious Christ) which describes how Christ frees humans from the power of Sin, Death, and Evil by way of his agonizing death on the cross and his victorious resurrection from the grave! 

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“By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your Passion, You confirmed the universal resurrection, O Christ God! Like the children with palms of victory, we cry out to You, O Vanquisher of Death; Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!”

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“O Christ God, when Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead, before Thy Passion, thou didst confirm the universal resurrection. Wherefore, we, like babes, carry the insignia of triumph and victory, and cry to Thee, O vanquisher of death, Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord”

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“By Your word, O Word of God, Lazarus now leaps out of death, having returned to this life. Therefore, the peoples honor You with their branches, O Mighty One; for You shall destroy Hades utterly by Your own death.”

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“By means of Lazarus has Christ already plundered you, O death. Where is your victory, O Hades? For the lament of Bethany is handed over now to you. Let us all wave against it our branches of victory.”

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This post was written by one of our Covenant Partners, Jerry Warner. We are grateful for the work and writing that went in to this.