+ I seem to say this every year on Holy Saturday morning. I LOVE this service. I love its simplicity. I love its solemnity. I love this time to gather and just be quiet. I love the fact that, after all that we’ve been through liturgically in these last few days and all that we will still go through liturgically in the next day, here we are.
Here we are in a church stripped of everything symbolic. The cross hangs before us, veiled in black. The altar is stripped. The aumbry, that held just a few days ago the Body and Blood of Jesus, is now empty, its door wide open. The sanctuary light, which gently reminds us of the holy Presence of Jesus in that Bread and Wine, is extinguished and has been taken away.
For those of us who delight in the Presence of God—who strive and long for the Presence of God—who find our purpose and meaning in the Presence of God—today is a bleak day. That Presence seems…gone. Or, at least, hidden from us.
For now, in this moment, on this Holy Saturday morning, time seems to sort of stand still. We are caught in this breathless moment—between the excruciating death of Jesus on the cross yesterday and the glorious Light that is about dawn on us tonight and tomorrow morning. For now—in this moment—we are here.
And Jesus… Where is Jesus? We imagine his body lying there in the dark stillness of the tomb, wrapped and broken and bloodied.
But where is Jesus?
Not his body.
One of the reason I love this service is because it gives me that opportunity to speak about one of my favorite Christian subjects—the so-called “Harrowing of Hell. The Harrowing of Hell is that wonderful concept in which we ponder Jesus’ descent to hell to bring back those captured there. For me, it so packed full of meaning.
Hell. That place we thought was the end all of end-all’s. That place that we dread and fear and cringe from. That place in which lies every one of our greatest nightmares and the most horrendous things we could even possibly imagine. That black, bleak, miserable place. What I love about today and this Harrowing of Hell is that the fear of this place is broken. The fear that there is a place in which God’s love and light might not be able to descend is broken open. Jesus goes even there in search of us, those he loves.
Now, this imagine carries over into our own immediately lives. Hell, for us, is not necessarily that metaphysical place of eternal punishment. Hell is right here, in our own lives. In our own minds. In our own day-to-day lives. We all know what our own hells are and how isolating they can be. We know how impenetrable they seem.
What today shows us that there is no such thing as an impenetrable hell. At least not for Jesus. No matter how dark, how terrible our hells might be, Jesus will come for us there. Jesus will descend to us, wherever we might be. And from that place, he will take us by the hand and pull us out. Because that is what Christ’s love is able to do.
Nothing can separate us from that love of Christ. Not even the deepest hell. It is incredible when we think of that. And, for me anyway, it fills me with such hope, such joy, such love for Christ that even the bleakness of this morning doesn’t seem so bleak.
Oh yes, Jesus has died. He truly died—he truly tasted death and partook of it fully. And we too must die as well. We too will taste death and partake in it fully. But the fact is that, not even death can separate us from Christ.
That place wherein we find ourselves, lost, lifeless, without hope, is the place in which we cannot escape Christ. In the hells of our lives, even there Jesus comes to us. In those places in which we seem so far separated from God, from the love that God gives us, from the light God shines upon us, even there Jesus will come to us. No matter how far separated we might seem from Jesus, Jesus will cover that great distance and come to us. Even there. Even there he will find us and take us to himself. Even there, he will even die, like us, to bring us back to a life that will never end.
That is what Holy Saturday is all about and that is certainly why I love this day.
So, on this Holy Saturday, when all seems bleak and lost and without purpose, let us remember: Jesus is at work even in those moments when we think he might not be. The Presence of God is with us even when it seems furthest from us. In the darkest moments of our lives, the bright dawn is about to break. Let us wait patiently and breathlessly for it.