5 min Good Friday reflection
See the sermon notes below or listen to the audio podcast https://vermonthillsumc.org/podcast/silent-saturday/
I grew up without much pageantry around Holy Week. We were holiness evangelicals and we kept things pretty simple and minimal.
I have grown to like some of the liturgical elements of Easter week. The palms of Sunday, the meal of Maundy, Good Friday’s Tenebrae and of course the anthems and colors of Easter Day.
I still never knew what to do with Silent Saturday. The creeds say that Jesus descended into hell. The Bible says that Jesus preached liberty to the captives – I have also heard this translated that he proclaimed victory over the evil powers. In church history it often gets called ‘the harrowing of hell’ which sounds more like something from the shire in the Lord of The Rings.
Then a couple of years ago I found this catholic theologian named Hans Von Balthasar.
[ Book: Dare We hope that all shall be saved (side note: turn toward ‘beauty – and away from self)
The vision of suffering love and its power is Christ on the cross]
He talks about suffering love and the power that is seen in the moments when Christ is on the cross. This is the beginning of a theology of Holy Saturday : The day when Christ is dead – that is to say the day when God is dead. The eternal 2nd person of the trinity is a dead man.
Von Balthasar says that we get the death of Christ wrong when see him as a conqueror descending into hell victorious. We have over-emphasized the aspect of his ‘rescuing’ the Jewish patriarchs
And we need to really embrace that his dead among the dead.
Think about that: the is a victim, scapegoated and railroaded, beaten and battered. Humiliated and made into a spectacle to intimidate future rebels. Hung up like a warning sign on the outskirts of town to alert everyone as to who was in charge. There was not just one cross that day – there were at least three. There would have been dozens that lined the road into the city. Rome crucified hundreds of conquered rebels and would be revolutionaries. He hung between to bandits that day (thieves is too mild a translation).
He was dead among the dead.
He felt abandoned by God – separated from his source of life, identity, and direction.
[von Balthasar thinks that christ descended into Sheol (not the place of punishment called Gehenna) and after his resurrection when he brought so many with him, that what was left was Gehenna. Sheol would have been the Jewish understanding that Jesus had at the time. Also translated ‘the pit’- not a place of punishment, not the afterlife, there is nothing there but being dead. ]
He went to the place of the dead. Sank to the depths of death. He enters into the pit.
More dead than anyone. More dead than any sinner. As the author of life, he was the most kind of dead.
This was thought to be good news of a sort. Every person who dies descends into this place – goes down in to the pit – and finds Christ already there.
Christ awaits you in death. More dead than you are. More forsaken than anyone ever. More abandoned than you. More separated from God that anyone has ever experienced.
It is in the separation from God that every human is embraced. Into that vacuum the dead are held in Christ.
We find a brother in death. We are not alone in the pit. We have a advocate in the midst of our suffering.
The author of life died a death and became the most dead – now doubly dead, lives to advocated for us – our great high priest – whose name is love – suffered death to the depth of despair.
I want to share this with you during this difficult time of isolation and distancing because the teaching on Holy Saturday says that you will never experience greater suffering, separation, or despair than the one who died and is ahead of us in death. You will never be more dead, more abandoned, more forsaken, more despised or rejected than one who goes ahead of you.
You are never alone and there is always one who can sympathize. Christ has gone ahead of you and lives to interceded on our behalf.