“For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” (John 20:9)
On Good Friday, the impossible happened. God Himself was executed by His creatures. On Easter Sunday, this same God, our Lord Jesus Christ, rose from the dead, victorious over the power of the grave. In so doing, he defeated death for the same creatures who had put Him to death. Christians marvel at and meditate upon these events, and indeed draw our very life from their historic and transcendent reality. It is common, and entirely appropriate, for us to see our own spiritual defeats and victories as little Good Fridays and Easter Sundays. Though we face suffering and tragedy, we believe that God will bring great good out of evil. We know that the Resurrection brings meaning and hope to every difficult situation.- Continue reading HERE.
A reading from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday
The Lord's descent into hell
"What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.
Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son.
The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: 'My Lord be with you all.' And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.
‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.
‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.
‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.
‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.
'See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.
`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.
‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.
"The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages."
- Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed his peaceful light on all mankind, your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, "hell" - Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek - because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into "Abraham's bosom" "It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell." Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him."The gospel was preached even to the dead." The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfillment.
This is the last phase of Jesus' messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ's redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption. Christ went down into the depths of death so that "the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live."Jesus, "the Author of life", by dying destroyed "him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage." Henceforth the risen Christ holds "the keys of Death and Hades", so that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth."
The twentieth-century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote a work entitled Mysterium Paschale in which he attempts to come to grips with the experience of Christ on Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. The thesis of the book is that Christ, in order to redeem man from the punishment of sin, must take on sin and all of its consequences and must rise from those consequences on Easter in his return to the Father.
The most striking chapter of the book, and certainly the one that has received the most attention, is his description of Holy Saturday. For Balthasar the experience of Holy Saturday is preeminently about the credal phrase descendit ad inferna (Christ’s descent into Hell). While belief in the statement is a matter of dogmatic obedience, the Church has not been clear on exactly what Christ’s going to Hell entailed. Balthasar’s thesis hinges on two given facts. First, in order to redeem man Christ must take on the penalty of death merited by man’s sin. Second, the penalty for sin is not just death of the body, but also death of the soul.
The experience of Hell is that of abandonment by God. More precisely, the soul has chosen to separate itself from God in the very act of sin. God is both our efficient and final cause, so eternity spent in the absence of this God is greater than any suffering of which we can conceive, and certainly greater than any physical suffering.
Because Christ in his saving act must go through the entire experience of death, with the eventual result of its conquering, he must not only suffer and die a bodily death, but also must suffer a spiritual death, a death that is the complete abandonment by God. The whole idea becomes more profound when we consider that Jesus is God. As such, his “closeness” to the Father is perfect, and certainly much more intense than our own relationship with the Father. While two separate Trinitarian Persons, they are in fact one God. In this sense, Christ has a much greater loss when he is abandoned by the Father in Hell than any non-divine man could experience. (Note that only in a Trinitarian theology can we even begin to grapple with the idea of God being abandoned by God.)
Another way of looking at this is that Jesus, as true man, must experience the full depth and breadth of the human condition, and as perfect man will experience this depth and breadth in a manner more perfect than the rest of us. The human condition in its positive aspect is an original union with God, of which Jesus experiences in a far more perfect manner than we. In its negative aspect, the human condition is the abandonment of God in death caused by both original and personal sin, a death that only begins with the destruction of the body, but continues in the destruction of the soul in every way except its annihilation. Jesus, as perfect man, experiences the depths of Hell in a manner more perfectly terrible than even the souls of the damned.
As Christians, we have become accustomed to thinking about the sufferings of Christ on Good Friday. On Holy Saturday, we at times become a bit more human-centered, perhaps reflecting on the emptiness and confusion the disciples would have felt as people who did not yet fully understand the significance of the prior day’s events. Perhaps, however, we should keep our gaze on Christ, knowing that the sufferings he is experiencing today are infinitely greater than those of Good Friday. The height of his Good Friday sufferings occurs in his shout from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me!” This is the beginning of His Hell, and today is a long and arduous experience of this abandonment – and all of this He did for us.