For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (1 Pet 4:6, NIV)
We often gloss over this significant day that sits between Good Friday and the triumph of Sunday’s resurrection. But what if something profound was occurring on Saturday that made the next day coherent? What if, like an ordinary week, you cannot get to Sunday except by going through Saturday?
This ordinary day has extraordinary implications, for it is also known as the Harrowing of Hell. It’s a great story with astounding implications. Too bad it is nearly unknown to Protestants, apart from one phrase of the Apostles’ Creed: “Jesus descended to the dead.” From Matthew 27:52-53, Ephesians 4:9-10, and 1 Peter 3:19 and 4:6 we learn that Jesus went to the dead to bring them into life.
Who was the first to be retrieved? The Bible doesn’t say, but the Eastern Orthodox icon of the Resurrection shows Jesus standing at the gates of Hell, lifting two people out of their graves: Adam and Eve. The second Adam, Jesus, liberates the first Adam. The Story is being retold by one who, unlike the first Adam, is found faithful (1 Cor 15:48-49).
So may this ordinary Saturday pave the way for an extraordinary Sunday. May the descent of grief as we look back on Good Friday remind us that our God is always moving to tell a better story amid the brokenness that is our world. The Pietist heart is one with hope for better times. This Holy Saturday, may we start to become a Resurrection Sunday people in a Good Friday world.
Shepherd of all, in death you remained hidden from the world;
teach us to love our hidden spiritual life with you and the Father.
In your role as the new Adam, you went down among the dead to release the captives;
grant that all who are dead in sin may hear your voice and rise to new life. Amen.