Today we remember the gruesome event of Jesus’ Passion and death on Good Friday. Every year, I hope to approach these holy days with more awe, reverence and prayer than the year before. But every year I experience this awkward limbo after the Good Friday service and into Holy Saturday.
I have always wondered: "What am I supposed to be doing? What exactly should my demeanor be? Am I supposed stay in the chapel all day clothed in all black? Like, hello, Jesus is dead. God straight up died. What is happening, and what the heck do I do now?"
We only have to look at our Creed to know what’s happening. Four small, but profound, game-changing words: “He descended into hell.”
That’s what’s happening, and it is worth reflecting on during the time that we wait for the Easter celebration.
Most times when I hear the world hell, my mind goes to a fiery pit of doom where “bad” people go when they die, or where I’ll go if I don’t obey my parents or feed that homeless person on the corner. But in the Old Testament hell is called “Sheol” in Hebrew, or “Hades” in Greek which translates to the “residence of the dead.”
So it’s a place absent of life.
God, [the Son], went to hell. God experienced a nasty death, and then paid a little visit to the home of the dead. But why? Why not just go straight to heaven? Two reasons:
- To save us from our lifelessness (and those who went before us)
- To redeem death and give it a new meaning
So often in our world, death and suffering seem like they have the final say, and life can feel, well, lifeless, but we should know better because we know the bigger picture: God beat death. Death and suffering no longer have the final say, and without Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice, there is no epic rescue story for us.
So let me ask you: where is the death in your life? Where are the places that feel like literal hell? Is it a broken relationship? A passionless job? Financial burdens? Maybe actual death of a loved one? The fact that our God became man and experienced every ounce of our humanity means that he can empathize with our suffering. His descent into hell shows us that there is no place he won't go to find us. He's not intimidated by our mess.
This Saturday, during this awkward waiting time after Jesus’ death and before the resurrection, what if we spent time in those lifeless places and imagined Jesus walking in? Not that they’re miraculously fixed or that they cease to exist, but that whatever situation we find ourselves in, Jesus walks in and is there with us.
My prayer for this Saturday is that we approach it as a time of “eager expectation” of the things to come and that we remember that we have a God who knows us and who wants to be with us.
“He saw you cast into a river of life you didn't request. He saw you in your own garden of gnarled trees and sleeping friends. He saw you staring into the pit of your own failures and the mouth of your own grave. He saw you in your own garden of Gethsemane and he didn't want you to be alone ... He would rather go to hell for you than to heaven without you.” - Max Lucado
Annie Theby is the College Campus Minister for the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee.