|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.