A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Lord’s Descent into the Underworld

The Second Reading, Office of Readings for Holy Saturday,

from an ancient homily

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants, I now by my own authority, command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

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 has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Loving the Liberator

In an ancient Easter Vigil homily … we hear what we may imagine to be the words of Jesus Christ. He says to Adam, “I am your God, yet I have become your son. I am in you, and you are in me. We together are a single, indivisible person.” Thus, it is clear that this Adam does not signify an individual in a dim and distant past: the Adam addressed by the victorious Christ is we ourselves – “I am in you, and you are in me.”

Having taken human nature, he is now present in human flesh, and we are present in him, the Son.

The homily quotes and expands a passage from the Letter to the Ephesians: Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light. I have not created you to be in prison forever. I did not make you for the dungeon. This pronouncement contains the whole Christian message ...

The Church’s real contribution to liberation, which she can never postpone and which is most urgent today, is to proclaim truth in the world, to affirm that God is, that God knows us, and that God is as Jesus Christ has revealed him, and that, in Jesus Christ, he has given us the path of life … Let us ask the Lord to visit the dungeons of this world; all the prisons which are hushed up by a propaganda which knows no truth, by a strategy of disinformation, keeping us in the dark and constituting our dungeon. Let us ask him to enter into the spiritual prisons of this age, into the darkness of our lack of truth, revealing himself as the Victor who tears down the gates and says to us, “I, your God, have become your Son. Come out! I have not created you to be in prison forever. I did not make you for the dungeon.”

In his play ‘No Exit,’ Jean-Paul Sartre portrays man as a being who is hopelessly trapped. He sums up his gloomy picture of man in the words, “Hell is other people.” This being so, hell is everywhere, and there is no exit. The doors are everywhere closed.

Christ, however, says to us, “I, your God, have become your Son. Come out!” Now the exact opposite is true: heaven is other people. Christ summons us to find heaven in him, to discover him in others and thus to be heaven to each other.

He calls us to let heaven shine into this world. Jesus stretches out his hand to us in the mystery of the sacraments so that the light of heaven may shine forth in this world and the doors may be opened. Let us take his hand! Amen.

Pope Benedict XVI,
Pope from 2005 to 2013


Tagged as: ,

Leave a Response