It's Wednesday morning and the house is quiet. Shortly, I'll be setting out to physical therapy. I'm caught by a melancholy this morning that feels a bit like Stevie Nicks' song, "Landslide".
Saturday, April 16, 2022
|The Harrowing of Hell - Fra Angelico c. 1430's|
This morning, much of the Church is observing what's known as Holy Saturday, a reflective interval between Good Friday and the Pascha, or Easter Sunday. While Scripture seems to be silent on today, it's been recognized since the dawn of the Church, known to us in Latin as the Descensus Christi ad Inferos , where the Christ "Descended to Hell" as attested to in both the Apostles' and Athanasian Creeds. To say Scripture is silent on this is not entirely accurate because Saints Peter and Paul speak to this event and its purpose in their epistles.
This descent is unlike any other thats been recorded within or outside the realm of time. Lucifer and his fallen angels were violently cast down into the underworld and the unredeemed are by nature compelled to descend there, Jesus did so willingly and obediently on His continuing mission from the Cross to the Throne. Quantitatively, He spent little more than a day in this region of the dead in what was essentially gathering the first fruits of the atonement into His eternal presence. From this moment onward the Just, or those who lived their lives by faith in The Almighty would never have to experience this descent into the abyss but rather, immediately enter into the light and presence of The Father.
Saint Paul spoke to this moment in his letter to the Church at Ephesus where he declared:
(In saying, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) - Eph 4:9-10 ESVSaint Peter further speaks to this in his first epistle:
For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. - 1Pe 4:6 ESV
The theological impact of Holy Saturday is monumental, yet the day serves to teach a lesson thats closer to our everyday lives. Let's consider the lives of Christ's remaining eleven Apostles and his other disciples. Yesterday, they witnessed the horrific slaughter of their master who breathed his final breath naked, bloodied, and impaled upon a Roman cross. The day had been darkened either through a total solar eclipse or some supernatural agency. Their city was rocked by an earthquake and there were reports of paranormal activities with sightings of the dead. Then, their master was sealed into a tomb and under Roman guard in a seeming cold finality. Now, on the morning of the seventh day they rested, wrestling with grief, shock, disappointment, and a plethora of questions and emotion. Yet within the next twenty-four hours, their lives would be seismically and irrevocably altered.
Holy Saturday teaches us that no matter how dire or final a situation may be, our stories are still being written by the Master of time and eternity. While we see moments, he has already seen the our outcome.
Let's rest in this truth.
Friday, April 15, 2022
From the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Today's Gospel passage is extremely long, recapturing the Passion narrative that was read at All Saints' this past Sunday. I'm sharing a portion of that large passage to accompany our thoughts in this moment.
While I'd certain no one those reading this today has actually witnessed a Crucifixion, yet most have seen one or more theatrical or cinematic dramatizations of the event. Many of these dramatic recreations are relatively sterilized while some are extremely graphic and visceral. But the bloodiest depiction fails to capture the horrors of a roman crucifixion, an execution engineered to inflict one of the worst terrible deaths a human may endure. The Gospels capture a sense of this in their description of how the Roman execution detail broke the legs of two of the sufferer's in order to accelerate their end.
Our portion of Saint John 19 captures the Christ, in the moments leading to His death upon the cross:
"When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), "I thirst." A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." John 19:26-30 (ESV)It was approaching 3:00 PM in Jerusalem. It could likely have been 68 Degrees Fahrenheit or 20C and fair on any given day, but this was an afternoon like no other. Three hours prior, an unnatural darkness enveloped Jerusalem that held the city in the grip of twilight. In this gloom, each breath taken by the master took the full measure of his strength as he strained against the nails to fill his lungs. No doubt, he was dehydrated and in shock from being beaten and awake for 33 hours. For all of this, the Christ WOULD NOT die until his mission was complete.
In these moments, Jesus scans the perimeter, and sees his Disciple John Bar Zebedee with Mary, his Mother. He commends his mother into John's care while comforting his mother that John would care for her. Now, his thirst slaked by the sour wine, Jesus was able to cry out in a loud voice that the redemption of the Creation was complete. His words captured the sense that our sin debt at that moment was now paid in full.