Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Good Friday, Gospel Saturday
Volume 6 No. 340 March 24, 2016
 
III. Featured Articles on Gospel Saturday

Holy Saturday: He Descended into Hell

By an Unknown Early Church Father

[Editor's Note: This is used on Holy Saturday service in Catholic Church with the accompanying biblical reading of Hebrews 4:1-13. The "harrowing of hell" and the rescue of Adam and Eve was a popular theme in early and medieval Christian poetry, liturgy and song. Note the parallels here between Adam and Eve's sin, which lost paradise for us, and the passion of Christ, which won for us not simply an earthly paradise, but eternal life. While it appears that this comes from a Holy Saturday homily written in Greek dating back to the fourth century liturgy (PG 43, 439, 462f), the author of this text is unknown.]

Scripture Reading: Hebrews 4:1-13 (NKJV)

The Promise of Rest

4 Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, [a] not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. 3 For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said:

"So I swore in My wrath,
'They shall not enter My rest,'" [b]

although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

4 For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works"; [c] 5 and again in this place: "They shall not enter My rest." [d]

6 Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, 7 again He designates a certain day, saying in David, "Today," after such a long time, as it has been said:

"Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts." [e]

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.

The Word Discovers Our Condition

11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Footnotes:

a. Hebrews 4:2 NU-Text and M-Text read profit them, since they were not united by faith with those who heeded it.
b. Hebrews 4:3 Psalm 95:11
c. Hebrews 4:4 Genesis 2:2
d. Hebrews 4:5 Psalm 95:11
e. Hebrews 4:7 Psalm 95:7, 8

Sermon

Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: "My Lord be with you all". Christ answered him: "And with your spirit". He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: "Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light".

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

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 has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Holy Saturday Responsory:

Our shepherd, the source of the water of life, has died.
The sun was darkened when he passed away.
But now man's captor is made captive.
-- This is the day when our Savior broke through the gates of death.

He has destroyed the barricades of hell,
overthrown the sovereignty of the devil.
-- This is the day when our Savior broke through the gates of death

Holy Saturday Prayer:

All-powerful and ever-living God, your only Son went down among the dead and rose again in glory. In your goodness raise up your faithful people, buried with him in baptism, to be one with him in the eternal life of heaven, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Where Is Jesus Between His Death and Resurrection?

By Msgr. Charles Pope, Archdiocese of Washington

Where is Christ after He dies on Friday afternoon and before He rises on Easter Sunday? Both Scripture and Tradition answer this question. Consider the following excerpt from a second century sermon as well as this meditation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday (ca. 2nd century A.D.):

Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him - He who is both their God and the son of Eve. "I am your God, who for your sake have become your Son. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead."

Nothing could be more beautiful than that line addressed to Adam and Eve: "I am your God, who for your sake, have become your Son."

Scripture also testifies to Christ's descent to the dead and what He did: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison. 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 (1 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 4:6).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Christ's descent to the dead (excerpts from CCC # 632-635):

[The] first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ's descent into hell [is] that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead.

But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there [cf. 1 Pet 3:18-19]. 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 [cf. Phil 2:10; Acts 2:24; Rev 1:18; Eph 4:9; Pss 6:6; 88:11-13].

Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer [cf. Ps 89:49; 1 Sam 28:19; Ezek 32:17-32; Luke 16:22-26]. "It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell" [Roman Catechism I, 6, 3].

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.

[So] 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" [1 Peter 4:6]. 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" [Heb 2:14-15; cf. Acts 3:15].

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" [Rev 1:18; Phil 2:10].

The Silence of Saturday

by Max Lucado

Jesus is silent on Saturday. The women have anointed his body and placed it in Joseph's tomb. The cadaver of Christ is as mute as the stone which guards it. He spoke much on Friday. He will liberate the slaves of death on Sunday. But on Saturday, Jesus is silent.

So is God. He made himself heard on Friday. He tore the curtains of the temple, opened the graves of the dead, rocked the earth, blocked the sun of the sky, and sacrificed the Son of Heaven. Earth heard much of God on Friday.

Nothing on Saturday. Jesus is silent. God is silent. Saturday is silent.

Easter weekend discussions tend to skip Saturday. Friday and Sunday get the press. The crucifixion and resurrection command our thoughts. But don't ignore Saturday. You have them, too.

Silent Saturdays. The day between the struggle and the solution; the question and the answer; the offered prayer and the answer thereof.

Saturday's silence torments us. Is God angry? Did I disappoint him? God knows Jesus is in the tomb, why doesn't He do something? Or, in your case God knows your career is in the tank, your finances are in the pit, your marriage is in a mess. Why doesn't He act? What are you supposed to do until He does?

You do what Jesus did. Lie still. Stay silent. Trust God. Jesus died with this conviction: "You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay" (Acts 2:27 NIV).

Jesus knew God would not leave him alone in the grave. You need to know, God will not leave you alone with your struggles. His silence is not his absence, inactivity is never apathy. Saturdays have their purpose. They let us feel the full force of God's strength. Had God raised Jesus fifteen minutes after the death of His son, would we have appreciated the act? Were He to solve your problems the second they appear, would you appreciate His strength?

For His reasons, God inserts a Saturday between our Fridays and Sundays. If today is one for you, be patient. As one who endured the silent Saturday wrote: "Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord" (James 5:7 NKJV).

Max Lucado, 2013

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