“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” This was the proclamation not of a Christian, but of a German philosopher called Friedrich Nietzsche. He had a different understanding of this, but we Christians know that this statement is true on Good Friday. Today, Black Saturday, we reflect on the meaning of the words: God is dead. But what was he doing before he rose again?
In the Apostle’s Creed which we recite every Sunday, we say that Jesus “descended into hell”. Remember that after Adam and Eve sinned, the gates of heaven were shut and humanity could not get in. It is the resurrection of Jesus that opened the gates of heaven to us again, but before he rose, all the righteous people who died were in a place called “hell” (small letter “h”). On Black Saturday, as Jesus remained buried in the tomb , he went to this place to preach the Gospel to the dead in an event that has been traditionally called the “Harrowing of Hell.”
There is an ancient homily about this. Let me quote some excerpts from this beautiful text:
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. … He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. … The Lord approached [Adam and Eve] bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. … He took [Adam] by the hand and raised him up, saying: Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light. … 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, 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.
Marvelous! Sinundo ni Jesus lahat ng mga mabubuting namatay para dalhin sila sa langit. Even in death, Jesus saves! Today, as we keep watch with Jesus who is buried in the tomb, may our sorrow be mingled with joy. Our faith does not end with death on Good Friday! Your sufferings, whatever they may be, do not have the last word! Because tonight, on the solemn Easter Vigil, we will rejoice once more. Christ has conquered death, and the Church will echo the glorious refrain: “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleuia!”