This is the last meditation for Week Two. What struck me about this passage, which, of course, like my readers, I have read many times before, is that Jesus already had authority over death, before His Redemptive Act on the Cross. The Harrowing of Hell is the great act of Christ, freeing those in Hell, or Limbo, and we note this truth in the Creed.
The CCC teaches us about this act of authority.
“HE DESCENDED INTO HELL. ON THE THIRD DAY HE ROSE AGAIN”
631 Jesus “descended into the lower parts of the earth. He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens.”476 The Apostles’ Creed confesses in the same article Christ’s descent into hell and his Resurrection from the dead on the third day, because in his Passover it was precisely out of the depths of death that he made life spring forth:
- Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed his peaceful light on all mankind, your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.477
Paragraph 1. Christ Descended into Hell
632 The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was “raised from the dead” presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection.478 This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ’s descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.479
633 Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell” – Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek – because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God.480 Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into “Abraham’s bosom”:481 “It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.”482 Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.483
634 “The gospel was preached even to the dead.”484 The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfilment. This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption.
But, the sign of this Harrowing of Hell, which we say in our credal statement, is foreshadowed in the Raising of Lazarus.
What must Satan have thought when he saw a Man, a Human, commanding Hades to give up one of the dead, at a mere command? Satan stirred up those who had already crossed over to the dark side-those in the Sanhedrin, who were already “dead souls”. They then plotted, seriously, Christ’s death, thinking they could kill the power of light coming against the darkness, the power of God in Christ.
Did they think they could kill Christ? Those in darkness can make one of two choices. They can choose the Light of Christ when they see Him, and all people are given sufficient grace, or they can reject Christ and remain in sin, in darkness.
Christ called Lazarus out of death for another reason, besides showing us all that Christ has authority over life and death. Christ showed us that Lazarus could be raised from the dead because he chose the Light. he had chosen to believe in Christ. Those who follow Christ will be resurrected from the dead and enter into eternal life of joy, happiness, and peace. Those who live in the Light now will live in the Light forever.
Those in darkness try even now to kill the light of God in the world. They try through sin and corruption, thinking that hatred of the light will destroy it. However, as we know, the Light, Who is Christ cannot die.
One cannot be surprised if those in darkeness, who have chosen malice, will be against us, who are in the light. Those who choose life, who choose to live in the light, will be saved. The CCC reminds us that all life comes from God. A short command from Christ brought Lazarus back from the dead. Lazarus heard the Voice of Christ and recognized Him as God.
635 Christ went down into the depths of death so that “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”485 Jesus, “the Author of life”, by dying destroyed “him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.”486 Henceforth the risen Christ holds “the keys of Death and Hades”, so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”487
- Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great 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. . . He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, 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 Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him – He who is both their God and the son of Eve. . . “I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. . . I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.”488
636 By the expression “He descended into hell”, the Apostles’ Creed confesses that Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil “who has the power of death” (Heb 2:14).
637 In his human soul united to his divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened heaven’s gates for the just who had gone before him
Before beginning the Third Week on Sunday, it is good for a retreatant to know the end of the story. Christ has overcome death. I am reminded of St. John Paul II’s famous saying, “Do not be afraid.?