Today, Holy Saturday, the Church contemplates in silence the well-nigh imponderable mystery which is one of the articles of the Apostles Creed: He descended into Hell. The Scriptures are very reticent when referring to the interval between the Lord’s death on the cross and his resurrection. In this connection, the apostle Peter states that “…made alive in the spirit, he went and preached to the spirits in prison” (1Peter 3:19).
An early unknown Christian author part of whose sermon we read in the breviary on Holy Saturday speaks of Christ going to call Adam forth to new life. What is implied here is the life-giving power of Christ gained through his triumph on the cross; where Adam the first man once failed, and with him the whole human race, Christ the life-giving second Adam is now victorious.
Our human limitation does not allow us to penetrate this mystery of Christ in the tomb and his descent into Hell, but which is clearly not the ‘Hell of the damned.’ We can only wonder in prayerful silence this day as we place ourselves in spirit outside the tomb of the Lord where his body lay.
The ancient author exclaims, ‘The earth is hushed as it waits!’ A reassuring thought for us mortals and believers is that the Son of God plumbed the full depths of our humanity and was once laid to rest in a tomb, in a garden in ancient Jerusalem. He too experienced the agony of death and the bonds of mortality.
As we go through life and the loss of loved ones, those dear to us, this loss is immeasurably tempered by the conviction expressed in the prayer of the psalmist and which ultimately refers to Christ: “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, not let your Holy One see corruption (Ps. 16:10). The apostle Peter chose to quote the words of this psalm in his first sermon on Pentecost Day.
Holy Saturday therefore places us before the mystery of God and his unfathomable ways. We bow the knee before what lies beyond us and accept humbly the truth of the death, burial and resurrection of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
The silence and the stillness which mark Holy Saturday will give way at the Easter Vigil to unbounded joy and to the realisation that God has not allowed his Holy One to see the corruption of the grace. The tyranny of Satan and the power of death have been vanquished once and for all. The Father has vindicated his Son’s loving obedience to death on a cross and has raised him to Easter glory.
The liturgy amidst its alleluias will proclaim that Christ has indeed risen and returned in glory to his Father, while still remaining with us. Our risen Lord has gone ahead of us into eternity, and is forever in the words of Psalm 65, 5, “the hope of all the earth and of far distant isles.”
Wishing everyone a happy Easter and the abundant joy of the risen Lord and thank you for your great support in the last week!
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster
P.S. The Bishop’s Blog is now on a break until 18 April.