Jesus Descends to the Abode of the Dead
Two days ago, life for the Apostles seemed to be business as usual. Then, with dizzying speed, everything changed. In the space of a few hours, Jesus was arrested, tried, scourged, and crucified. Now his dead body lies in the tomb as his stunned followers try to make sense of it all. The Church knows now what is to come, but as we wait in quiet anticipation of that glory, as this ancient homily for Holy Saturday shows, even as his body lies in death, the Lord is actively at work:
What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.
Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son. The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross [and] grasping his hand he raises him up, saying:
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light. . . . For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.
“Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image. See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one. I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you. . . .
“Arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. . . .
“The bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.”