The harrowing of hell
I am always flooded with emotions during Holy Week and Easter. We begin waving palm branches with a triumphant entry into Jerusalem, praising God for the coming Messiah. But then our shouts of praise turn to chants of death as we say together “crucify him.” It is always gut-wrenching to me to acknowledge we killed Jesus – that Jesus needed to die in order that we might live.
I want to be as clear as possible – there is nowhere that God won’t go for you and for me. It is during this Holy Week that God goes to hell and back. Sure we say that in the Apostle’s Creed each week that Christ “descended into the dead” or other versions read, “descended into hell,” but it is during Holy Week that this becomes a reality. We are met with those emotions as we too are taken to a deep place to contemplate our sins as we wait for the resurrection dawn that Easter morning is sure to bring.
This in between time of Jesus’ death and resurrection was called by the earliest of Christians as “The Harrowing of Hell.” There are plenty of icons and paintings that depict this scene, but it is a powerful image of Christ descending into hell, reaching his hands out to Adam and Eve (those we say were responsible for the fall of humanity into sin), pulling them up out of their graves, and extending salvation to all those who had died since the beginning of the world. I get chills just talking about it, because it is beautiful depiction of God rendering all of humanity saved through Jesus Christ.
But with death comes resurrection, and that hope and assurance is for everyone. For the best of humanity and the worst of humanity. My seminary professor and friend Kristin Largen puts it this way, “The resurrection is not a reward for believing, or a bonus for good behavior. Simply put, the resurrection is the undeniable, incontrovertible proof of God’s saving love for the entire cosmos; a love that refuses to let us go, a love that refuses to lose even one of us.” There is nowhere that Christ won’t go for you and me, since this Christ has burst the bonds of hell once and for all.
I don’t know what kinds of hell you have been in this year, but I do know that Christ is already in the pit with you extending his arms around you to carry you out. The resurrection is coming, and with resurrection comes life in the midst death, and a sure and certain hope for the future – for you, for me, and for the entire world. Thanks be to God.
-Kelsey Fitting-Snyder, pastor in residency