Saturday, April 3, 2010

Holy Saturday: Jesus goes to Hell to break down the gates and let everyone out

I hope you have followed the Lenten reflections offered by members of St. Paul's. They've been remarkable, and each has underlined for me the depth and breadth of the people of St. Paul's (we've posted all of the reflections on a special blog you can read by clicking HERE).

It is my privilege to offer the reflection for today in the Lenten reflections, and I am reprinting it below:

Isaiah 42: 5-7, Psalm 16: 8-11 , 1 Peter 3: 18-20, Matthew 27: 50-53

When I was a small child in church I got chills whenever we would recite the part of the Apostles’ Creed that proclaimed Jesus went to Hell. Stop and listen to those words: “He descended into hell."
Did the adults know what they were saying?
It was not until the fifth decade of my life that I began to understand the line. And when I did it was one of those amazing moments of clarity. I had arrived at Holy Saturday, a day that is crucial to understanding the relationship that all of humanity – indeed, all of creation – has with the Risen Christ of Easter.
On Good Friday, the first day of Easter, Jesus dies on the Cross. Holy Saturday, the second day, is when Jesus opens the gates of Hell to let everyone out. On Holy Saturday, Jesus has robbed Hell of its power. Death is the enemy, and death is vanquished.
Without Holy Saturday, the resurrection of Jesus has very little to do with us. With Holy Saturday, we go with him. Holy Saturday is the fulcrum between the Cross and Easter.
Holy Saturday is a proclamation that no one, not even those who are already dead, is beyond Grace. The concept of Holy Saturday pushes us to reconsider the all-too-human urge to put limits on God’s mercy. On Holy Saturday, Jesus comes to find us in our deadest moments not just in the next world but also in this world.
Because of Holy Saturday, Jesus not only dies for us; Jesus dies with us, and he reveals himself as God-become-human, showing us a way to live without fear. Easter becomes not just about the One, but about all of us.
Collect for Holy Saturday
O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the
crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and
rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the
coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life;
who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one
God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Liturgical notes: Holy Saturday is remembered with a series of simple prayers and psalms on Saturday morning. If you have a chance, join me in the chapel at 9 am -- the service is quite brief.

Tonight at 7:30 pm we celebrate the Great Vigil of Easter. This is by far my favorite service of the year, and it is the most important on the Church calendar. We begin by lighting a fire, and then processing into the darkness of the church. The Great Vigil of Easter, also called the “Paschal Vigil” or the “Divine Liturgy” is the first official celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Easter season.

Historically, the earliest known accounts of The Great Vigil of Easter date to the early 3rd century of the Common Era. In the ancient church, it was at this service that people, especially children, were baptized and adults received as catechumens into full communion with the Church. The Vigil is held in the hours of darkness between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Day. The Great Vigil of Easter is considered to be the first celebration of Easter because Hebrew and early Christian tradition consider feasts and other great days to begin at sunset.

In the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Communion (of which the Episcopal Church is fully a part), the Easter Vigil is the most important Mass of the liturgical year, and is the first celebration of the Eucharist during the fifty-day long celebration of Eastertide. The service begins outside with the lighting of the Easter fire, and then the congregation proceeds inside following the Paschal Candle and led by the cantor chanting the Exsultet. In darkness, we hear the story of how God’s people are delivered from darkness. Finally, we proclaim Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and we celebrate our Eucharist. For the first time since the beginning of Lent, we proclaim “Alleluia!”

Art: "He is Risen," by He Qi


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comments in this blog. I have come to visit it often as a time to "go within" and rest with God.

Anonymous said...

Jim -

Holy week this year has reminded me again and again of how much I miss you and Lori. Especially on Holy Saturday, you are present. You may not remember this, but one Easter when I was your chalice bearer, you suggested that we go to the kitchen and take communion to the cooks (who, of course, included Lori). What a delighful idea it was. Then, I look at the Bee yesterday and there you are - making such good sense out of all this again. Thank you and blessings to you and Lori. Susan Van Dyke