Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday Reflection: Love Wins and Christ's Descent into Hell(Hades)

The one weak point of my confirmation classes was this little bit of the Apostles Creed: "He [Jesus Christ] descended into hell. On the third day he rose from the dead."  We sort of passed over descent into hell on to raising from the dead.  Whatever the descent into hell meant, what was important was raising from the dead.  I think my confirmation teacher mostly treated it as a synonym for death. A way to say that Jesus really died.  But mostly my recollection is that this phrase from the creed, and that it was supported by Scripture, the First Epistle of Peter and the Gospel of Matthew's account of Jesus Death and Resurrection, was simply a point of discomfort and puzzlement.

As Covenanter's both the Scripture and the Creed seemed to cause us a bit of discomfort.  These accounts seemed a bit too Roman Catholic, too close to the doctrine of purgatory.  A contradiction of the scripture that says " It is appointed once to die and then the Judgement" (Hebrews 9:27)  The "second chance" idea of purgotory that has also gotten people so worked up over Love Wins,  suggested by Christ's descent into hell, caused us to squirm even as we said it each communion Sunday.

Today Christ is in the Grave. Today Christ harrows Hades. Christ comes to Adam and Eve, and rescues them from deaths grip, saves them from the devil's grasp.  Love wins for them eternal life.  Here we find I think both the affirmation of our separation from God, that we can't repair by our own effort or even work up in ourselves in our own desires, and the hope of our universal salvation.  Adam and Eve are both particular persons and representative persons of our humanity.  If Christ does not go into hades and defeat death and bring them from up from the grave then we have no hope.  If our parents, if our humanity that first turned from God to our own selfish desires are loved by God so that God in Jesus Christ comes to them in that place of separation then who is beyond the reach of God's love?

Evangelicalism lacks this contemplation of Christ's descent into hell.  Thus to a large extent Evangelicalism must either affirm the existence of hell, or affirm universal salvation which denies hell.  On Holy Saturday when we affirm "He descended into Hell" we both affirm our separation from God even in death, and we can hope for Salvation of all. We can do both of these because, Love descended into the place of absence of love, in the place of the shades, and brings life and love.  Christ comes for Adam and Eve into the depths of Sheol, and thus affirms with the Psalmist that even in the depths of Sheol one can't escape God's love.

Presumably Adam and Even and many other's in Hades longed for and awaited the coming of Christ.  But if we are honest with ourselves we know that we shrink from God, and such a all consuming love.  We know the power of death, of our own destructive patterns, of the ways we hide like Adam and Eve from God, when God simply wishes to walk with us in the cool of the evening.

There is Hades, our separation from God, our willingly saying yes to death and destruction where we are ruled only by our passions.  And there is Christ come with blinding light crushing the gates of our imprisonment, dragging up our humanity, Adam and Eve, out of the depths, and thus the hope that we will like Adam and Eve reach out and grab hold of Christ's hands.