The Death and Life of the Righteous One
The Matins of Holy Saturday, served on the night of Holy Friday, contains the moving and tender Lamentations at the tomb and shroud of the Savior. The Lamentations are composed of an interplay, a weaving together, of two sets of songs: Psalm 118 and the Lamentation hymns from the Lenten Triodion.
The use of Psalm 118 at this moment, the funeral of Christ, makes clear the Church's identification of Christ as the Righteous One, whom v.1 of the psalm calls “the blameless in the way". This psalm more than any other is the psalm of the Righteous One, the man who has kept, loved and treasured the Torah, the law of God, which is for “the blameless in the way" his delight, his light, and his life.
Psalm 118 emerges from the very womb of Israel's faith, her covenant with God. In that covenant, made at Sinai and reaffirmed annually in the Passover/Pascha feast, Israel promises to be faithful to God in this covenant by keeping God's law, the Torah. God, in turn, promises mercy and covenant faithfulness. The covenant is articulated in Deuteronomy in the well-known scheme of the two ways: the way of God and His commandments and blessing and life, on the one hand, and the way of disobedience and curse and death on the other.
This is all well known, of course - Old Testament 101. The point I want to make is simply this: God promises life to the one who keeps the covenant, the one who fulfills His commandments, "the Righteous One." And this brings us back to Psalm 118. That we chant this psalm specifically at the tomb of Christ on Holy Saturday means that we recognize Christ as the Righteous One. In his self-emptying love, the Son - who gives the law to Moses on Sinai - enters the world as man to keep the law, to fulfill the Torah as man and to be “the blameless in the way”. This he does in his conception, birth, baptism, life, miracles, teaching, but above all in his death. And having emptied himself to the point of death he awaits, in that same self-emptying love, his resurrection.
If he, the Righteous One who keeps the law of God, dies and is given over to corruption, then God proves unfaithful to the covenant and, to put it rather starkly, is not really God at all. But if the Righteous One lives by being raised from the dead then the covenant is fulfilled and a New Covenant and, in fact, a New Creation can be formed in him. This New Covenant will not be made with people only of a certain race or blood but with all who, through faith in Christ Jesus, enter into communion with God through baptism into Christ's death and rising in him into the resurrection, the life of God.
In this regard it is not incidental that at an Orthodox funeral it is Psalm 118 that is chanted over the body/relics of the departed. For having entered into covenant with God through Christ the Righteous One we, too, are to become righteous, blameless in the way, delighting in the commandments of Christ. In this way we follow him not only in this life but beyond the grave, in the resurrection, and into the Kingdom of Heaven.
With love in Christ, Fr John
“Give me a word!”
Christians, always rejoice, for evil, death, sin, the devil and hell have been conquered by Christ. But when all of this is conquered, is there anyone in the world who can bring our joy to naught? You are the lord of this eternal rejoicing as long as you do not give in to sin. Joy burns in our hearts from His truth, love, resurrection, and from the Church and His saints. Joy burns in our hearts all because of sufferings for Him, mockings for Him, and death for Him, insofar as these sufferings write our names in heaven. There is no true joy on earth without the victory over death, but the victory over death does not exist without the Resurrection, and the Resurrection does not exist without Christ. The risen God-Man Christ, the founder of the Church, constantly pours out this joy into the hearts of His followers through the Holy Mysteries and good deeds. Our faith is fulfilled in this eternal joy, insofar as the joy of faith in Christ is the only true joy for human nature.
+St Justin Popovich
The risen God requires our resurrection.
+St Alexey Mechev
In the sleepy caravan of history, Thou art the only unexpected oasis.... Everything concerning Thee is new, my Jesus, from birth to death and from death to eternity.
+St Nikolai Velimirovich