After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Bishop Jack Nicholls, the Bishop of Sheffield, once asked a sixth grade girl where she thought Jesus was between Good Friday and Easter. She replied, after she had thought a little, ‘I think he was in deepest hell looking for his friend Judas.’… scripture tells us Judas was condemned.. and I believe he was… but that sixth grader was on to something…
Where is Jesus now.. in this present darkness? Where might we seek him? He is dead. “He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. He emptied himself freely accepting death on a cross”.. So where is Jesus? You know the words of the Creed: He suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead, and was buried, he descended into hell....”
That’s why this Church seems so strangely empty… The one for whom it was built, the one whose presence draws us on Sunday, is not here.
“Crucified died and was buried, he descended into hell.” Nineteenth Century Methodists removed that portion of the Creed, claiming it unbiblical. But it’s not. The First Epistle of Peter speaks of Christ’s descent into hell, called by the Church, “The Harrowing of Hell.”.. harrowing comes from a military term meaning "make predatory raids or incursions".. therefore after Christ’s burial yesterday and through today… Satan’s territory is being invaded by the one who yesterday died upon the cross…
After his death (at the hands of us good, Bible quoting religious people), when he breathed his last, Jesus, ever on the move, descended to hell. Having preached to us, the living, he descended to the dead. and is there, preaching to them and proclaiming the good news.. to those could not benefit of his life and words during their lives.
How did the church come up with such a notion? This “harrowing of hell”?
It was inconceivable to the church that only those who were living during the time of Jesus and afterword would benefit from the salvation he brought to the world.. and all those who died before his coming would be excluded from that salvation… So everyone who had died before his coming.. all the way back to Adam and Eve.. on this day.. have the opportunity to receive his word …
He is there, doing what he does so well, preaching, teaching, touching, relentlessly seeking, persuading, inviting, announcing the love and mercy of God. As the Psalmist says… “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell....” even Byzantine art depicts Jesus, in the jaws of hell, giving a hand to those who had died lifting them up, out of the darkness.
And though he is down there, and therefore not here, there is something to be said to those of us he has temporarily left behind. That word is this: Because I am there.. descended into the deadly darkness, confronting the enemy on the enemy’s own turf, you have hope.
If he is there – literally fighting for souls in Hell.. then we can know with all certainty that there is no darkness, sorrow, or pain we can experience, that his loving presence cannot enter into… because if he is willing and able to risk all, to wade deep into the death we so fear and avoid, then what might he risk for you?
Do you remember the stories Jesus told about God and the kingdom of Heaven… the good Shepherd who forever seeks the one lost sheep, the faithful father who awaits the return of the one lost son, the relentless woman who does not rest until she finds the one coin (Luke 14). Jesus meant those things when he said them… and he doesn’t mind looking in hell for those righteous souls that departed this world before his arrival…
On that first Saturday before the resurrection.. the disciples, Mary and the rest mourned the loss of their savior.. but he had not truly left them.. he had only gone to complete his Father’s work.