Commemoration of the Passion of the Lord (Good Friday) “He Descended Into Hell” PDF Version
Good Friday 2018
After they rolled the stone across the tomb, those brave disciples, who did not abandon Jesus when He needed them most, so too took their leave from the place of the skull, that hill where many said the bones of Adam lay deep in the heart of the earth and would now be the resting place of Jesus Christ, the Son of Adam and the Son of God.
Was the story to end here, few would have bothered in coming years to read about the life, mission, and demise of one Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Mary, the Son of a Carpenter, and some dared to call the Son of Most High. Because of the coming Resurrection, this story will echo throughout eternity. But this story, as given to us in the 4 Gospels, is filled with a glaring omission. What took place after the Lord’s death until the time of His Resurrection?
None of the Evangelists describe for us what we recite in the words of the Apostles Creed “He descended into hell.” Christians have believed, with unwavering certainty and fearful reverence that Christ’s soul went into Hades, to set free the long held captives, to assure that the bones of Adam which lay near His tomb would not vanish, but would know life again on the universal day of Resurrection at the end of time.
But no inspired text exists to tell us what happened when Christ descended into hell. A book that claimed to be the Gospel according to St Peter was composed in the early years of Christianity and claimed to give a detailed account of this harrowing of the underworld. Yet the Church in her sober and prudential wisdom rejected this book as not being inspired by the Holy Spirit and thus unable to be included in the Bible.
But this does not mean the Church has sought to silence those saintly men and women who offered humble, poetic and spirit filled descriptions of the Lord’s mission in Sheol to bring the righteous men and women of old from their subterranean prison to the House of the Heavenly Father.
While none of these writings are the official teaching of Our Church on the truth of Our Lord’s descent into the realm of the dead, many of them faithfully attempt to describe how this event might have took place.
Having just read Our Lord’s Passion, I invite you to close your eyes and resting in God’s Holy Spirit allow yourself to imagine what came next, our Lord’s descent into hell. To assist us in pondering this great mystery, allow me to share what St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, also known as Edith Stein, imagined how our Lord’s great victory to be.
In one of her poems entitled “Conversation at Night”, St. Teresa Benedicta imagined herself being visited by Queen Esther in one of her dreams. These two daughters of Israel conversed long into the night about the story of their people’s salvation and Queen Esther shared with Edith, soon to be martyred into the hell fire of Aushwitz, what took place after Our Lord’s death and descent into hell…And so spoke Queen Esther:
“Like all who faithfully have served the Lord
As their ancestors did, we have waited there in peace,
Still far from the light, so always in longing.
But there came a day when, through all of creation,
There occurred a fissure. All the elements seemed
To be in revolt, night enveloped the world at noon.
But in the midst of the night there stood
as if illuminated by lightning, a barren mountain
and on the mountain a cross on which someone hung
Bleeding from a thousand wounds; a thirst came over us
To drink ourselves well from this fountain of wounds.
The cross vanished into night, yet our night
Was suddenly penetrated by a new light,
Of which we had never had any idea: a sweet, blessed light.
It streamed from the wounds of that man
Who had just died on the cross, now he stood in our midst.
He himself was the light,
The eternal light, that we had longed for from of old,
The Father’s reflection and the salvation of the people.
He spread his arms wide and spoke
With a voice full of heavenly timbre:
Come to me all you have faithfully served
The Father and lived in hope
Of the redeemer; see he is with you,
He fetches you home to his Father’s kingdom.
What happened then, there are no words to describe.
All of us who had awaited blessedness,
We were now at our goal-in the heart of Jesus.”