The Harrowing Of Hell

Saturday of Holy Week is an opportunity for serious existential crisis among Christians. It is the day of vigil, when we know how the story turns out, but if we put ourselves in the place of the disciples, we are in agony.

What is God doing on this day? Where is our Lord?

Tulerunt dominum meum.

Here’s something to help you through the day, then. You may or may not be familiar with the tradition that locates a warrior Christ in Hell today, in what the Orthodox tradition calls “the Harrowing of Hell.” Here’s a delicious bit of apocrypha from “The Gospel of Nicodemus Acts of Pilate and Christ’s descent into Hell” in New Testament Apocrypha, Volume One: Gospels and Related Writings, edited by Wilhelm Schneemelcher (521-526). In one remarkable and even comical conversation between Satan and Hades, Hades bemoans Christ’s ability to restore the dead from the underworld. He says, “I have pain in the stomach. Lazarus who was snatched from me before seems to me no good sign.”

No good sign, indeed. Of course, Christ has restored many of us from the dead and snatched us from Hell before actual physical death. Maybe today is a good day to spend in Hell in order to remember how much he means to us, and and how much this broken, screwy but grateful community of Lazaruses we call the Christian community need each other.

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