Finally here’s the night we have been awaiting. It’s different from other nights. This one is not obscure for shines with light of the risen Lord. The night resonates not with horror sounds that scare but rather with a new song that beams hearts and uplifts drooping spirits. But why a new song on the night of the Holy Saturday?
Jesus descends in hell to liberate Adam and Eve, humanity, from shackles of death
Bible Readings Genesis 1: 1-2 2 Exodus 14: 15-15 1 Isaiah 54: 5-14 Romains 6: 3-11 Psalm 118: 1-2; 16-17; 22-23 Matthew 28: 1-10
Sing a new song to the Lord! (Ps 97)
In the bible the great deeds of the Lord are greeted with a canticle of thanksgiving. That’s why each time Israel experiences the saving love of God she sings a new song in gratitude for the marvels the Lord has done in her favour. No wonder, after crossing the red sea what does she do? Spontaneously, she bursts into a canticle, a song of praise.
The experience of a new song is not foreign to us either. When a mother is sulky in the kitchen it’s not a good sign. Even the dish she’s preparing risks ending up in a complete disaster. But when you enter the house and from the kitchen you hear her humming a song it’s a sign of a bright day. There’s joy in the family. And that joy you can smell it and taste it even in the food. Indeed, there are many places where we experience such outpouring of joy: in offices, in the shower… a song of joy just floats uncontrollably. As for me now, can a new song escape my lips? Do I really have something to celebrate on the night of the Holy Saturday? Can I surprise myself humming a new song of praise?
Or is it just some mob euphoria?
In our jubilation over the resurrection, are we not trying to close our eyes on the reality around us and console ourselves in some illusion? There are people who are suffering and have no means of getting a solution, others are dying now. How can we sing victory? We may want to forget, yet, we know it too well when we get back to work we shall have to face again that colleague of ours that we find unbearable. Nothing will change, the cavalry will continue. Just with these few examples, where do we find the reason to intone the song of redeemed people? That’s a paradox of Christian life.
It’s not about armoured life
Christians though we are, we don’t live in a bullet-proof world. We are touched by suffering, even death. A Christian suffers like anyone else, at times even worse. Yet, it’s in the midst of such vulnerability that we find the power of the resurrection.
On Good Friday we commemorate the passion and death of Jesus. According to Jewish custom of that time, regarding the dead, the body of Jesus is wrapped in a shroud –cloth for the dead –and then placed in the tomb which is blocked with a big stone. These details make us appreciate that Jesus is really dead like any other person; in a way, marking the end of his life. Even the women who hurry themselves to the tomb on the Sunday morning they are not expecting to meet the Lord but the corpse so that they can accomplish burial rituals. Yet, it’s only after this real experience of death that we can talk about Christ’s victory over death.
Indeed, Jesus is dead and buried yet he does not remain captive of death. In the creed, Symbol of the Apostles, we pray: he “…was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell.…” The catch phrase here is descending into hell.
Why Jesus in hell?
There’s an icon that expresses beautifully such descent into hell. In fact, that’s the image I have proposed to you for this homily. What does Jesus find in hell?
Adam and Eve, in chains. It’s you and I, it’s the entire humanity, imprisoned in the grip of death. Jesus breaks the chains, holds out his hands to help Adam and Eve out from their prison. He enlightens them, and they see, they are not meant to be in the tomb at the mercy of death. Jesus projects his light on entire humanity so that we can see who we really we are –God’s people, loved and saved. That’s why we can sing the canticle of Zachariah: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:78-79).
Jesus down to my prison
To rejoice just because Jesus is risen makes little sense. The resurrection of Jesus becomes a source of joy only in so far as I participate in his resurrection, that is, when I experience this encounter with the risen Lord that liberates me from my chains. Otherwise, we can sing, dance and have a festive meal and yet remain in our tombs of hatred, violence, egoism, discrimination. In this way, the resurrection remains only a nice, pious talk. It risks becoming a religio-social performance repeated every year. It yields no fruit. And we continue living in darkness of our tombs. On the contrary, the resurrection is a transforming event, though it does not mean being perfect.
So we have a good reason to rejoice the night of the Holy Saturday if, in the first place, on Good Friday we allowed Jesus to come down to our tomb and break the chains of death, if we allowed him to untie the linens of the dead that envelope us. What gives us the joy is not the information that Jesus is risen but rather the experience of taking part in his resurrection. What will move us to burst into a new canticle of joy is the encounter with the risen Lord and hear him call us from death to life, like he did to Lazarus (Homily: 5th Sunday of Lent A. Do you believe even when God is late?).
This Holy Saturday, yes, I will sing a new song!
That’s why the night of the Holy Saturday we should not remain there sulking, no, we should not remain morose. We ought to sing a new song. The risen Lord has come to illumine us with his pascal light that enables us to see who we are in God –beloved children of the Father, meant for life and not for death. His light enables us also to appreciate who we are vis-à-vis those around us. We are not strangers, we are not enemies; we are members of one family –we are brothers and sisters.
Certainly, the resurrection does not change the world around me but it surely transforms my attitude towards my experiences and the world around me. Living in hope gives me a certain assurance in life. Of course, challenges of life will still be there and yet I remain in the hope that no matter how big an obstacle may be, I know it can be rolled away. No matter how tight I feel in the shroud; I know there’s someone capable of loosening it to set me free. That’s the transforming power of the resurrection. Once we live in such hope, then we can share with the psalmist his sentiment of trust: “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay” (Psalm 15:9-10).
Indeed, we pray Lord, enlighten the eyes of our heart that we may know the richness of this hope which your son brings us by his resurrection (cf. Ephesians 1:18-19). And may the risen Lord liberate us from desperateness that inhibits us from singing a new song.
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen! Happy Easter!
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See also: Holy Thursday A. New Commandment of Love