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Posts Tagged ‘Holy Saturday’

Today we commemorate Holy Saturday, the quiet, somber interlude between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Instead of sharing my own reflections I’d like to share this ancient homily, composed by an anonymous source. It brings to life that stirring line in the Apostle’s Creed: “He descended into hell.”

he-descended
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 into them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: “My Lord be with you all.” And Christ in reply says to Adam: “And with your spirit.” And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying:

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

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, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

But 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. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.

The cherubim throne has been prepared, 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.”

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Crucifix at Saint Etienne-du-Mont

Crucifix at Saint Etienne-du-Mont

What is the message that Jesus has for the world? At first he seems to confirm his followers’ hopes: “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified.” Great! Finally, after putting things off for so long, he is ready; the moment has come.

But then he clarifies: “I solemnly assure you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies it produces much fruit.” Believe me, this is not what his followers wanted to hear.

The Jews had had more than enough experience with death. They had lived under oppression for centuries and their glory days were long ago. The Roman boot was pressing down upon them. Those who would endeavour to throw it off were imprisoned or killed. And now this one, upon whom they had pinned their hopes, at the high point of his life, is speaking of falling to the earth and dying.

Then it gets stranger: “The man who loves his life loses it, while the man who hates his life in this world, preserves it to life eternal.” Come again?!

To understand what all this means, we should go back to the great image that Jesus uses, the grain of wheat that falls to the earth. A seed, resting by itself, can exist for a long time. In fact, they have found seeds in the tombs of the Pharaohs and seeds in fossil remains. But unless they fall into the soil and crack open, nothing further comes of them. Their life is inside, yes, but it’s a life that grows by being given away and mixing with the soil around it. It has to crack open and be destroyed. But even after a very long time, a seed can grow into a flourishing plant. The oldest seed that has grown into a viable plant was a 2000-year-old date palm seed from excavations at Herod the Great’s palace on Masada in Israel. It was germinated in 2005.

When you look at a great tree or a plant, you see none of the original seed, and yet you see life. The same is true of the cross. When Christians look at the cross, we no longer see death, but eternal life.

Originally published by Fr. R. Barron

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