Silence & Descending: Homilies for Holy Saturday
Updated: Apr 23
(Video link for Holy Saturday service containing homilies here)
Homily #1: Silence
Last night we heard the words “My God my God why have you forsaken me”. Jesus is echoing the great psalm of lament Psalm 22, saying “Where are you when I need you?” And it seems God is silent in response.
Today the disciples are asking the same thing: God, where are you? You said this was your Beloved Son, our Messiah, the Savior of the World. Now he’s dead, laying in a tomb, and we are running for our lives before we are killed just like him. Where are you, God? Why haven’t you done anything? Why don’t you speak? Fix this!
It’s terrifying to sit in that darkness, that silence where it’s only you and your thoughts. To feel that void where all our faith tells us God should be and God even is. But it does not feel that way. To feel as though God should have done something, should have said something, and all we get is silence. This is what Saturday was for the disciples, and what many of us are all too familiar with.
This feeling is called Godforsakenness; the feeling of abandonment by God. It goes against all we are taught these days: have faith, just believe, don’t let those negative thoughts get the best of you. But this feeling of forsaken keeps creeping back, and there are even seasons of life where it sure feels as though God is silent, oblivious, absent, day in and day out. We keep telling ourselves “I shouldn’t feel this way, other people don’t feel this way, this won’t be right to share or express to others”.
But on this day, Holy Saturday, maybe we should take a page from our Jewish brothers and sisters, from Jesus himself, and cry out in lament.
A good friend of mine tells a story of a teacher had in bible college who spoke these words: “I question the authenticity of anyone’s faith if they have not sworn in the face of God”. When probed as to why they would say something so outlandish and to some even blasphemous, the teacher replied “If you don’t tell God exactly how you feel in the words that you feel it, then you rob Him of the thing that he wants the most. Your heart.” To truly be in relationship with someone you must bear your whole heart to them.
That is the beauty of lament: We love God so much we are willing to bear our heart, our pain, our anger and fears to Him. And God loves us so much God allows space for us to yell or scream or cry and bear our souls to Him. It is no sin to tell God how we are feeling and God is big enough and good enough to handle whatever we throw at him.
So tonight as we sit in our silence and pain, may we lament well for the pain of forsakenness we feel and remember those who also hurt with us. The disciples in pain for losing their friend and brother. The mother Mary who witnessed the death of her first-born son. Mary Magdalene aching at the loss of her redeemer. And even Christ himself in silent pain carrying the sin of the world.
Homily #2: Descended into Hell
Whenever we recite the Apostles Creed there is a line that seems quite odd and even lacking compared to the other statements. “He descended into Hades”. Some say Hades, some say dead, and some even use Hell. This comes from an ancient Christian idea, most commonly found among our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, called ‘the harrowing of hell”.
This idea speaks of when Christ was crucified and died, he descended into the place of the dead and brought with him the gospel of salvation for all the righteous who had gone before, all the way back to the beginning of humanity. Now to the people in Christ’s time this afterlife, underworld, place of the dead was not the fire and brimstone hell we know all too well from the works by Dante and Milton. This was the resting place for everyone who had passed away where they waited for the day of resurrection and judgment at the end of days. The Jewish people referred to this as Sheol, the Pit, or Abraham’s bosom.
So whatever picture you have in your mind concerning Hades, Place of the Dead, Hell, etc. consider this: by the power of the Spirit Christ went and proclaimed the gospel to those imprisoned by death! In life Jesus, the embodiment and perfect presence of God, went to people and places no one ever expected God to go to. Dirty, sinful, broken places with broken, hurting, sinful people. Jesus even goes to the one place no one would even look for God: naked on an execution stake with the lowest scum of society surrounding him. He goes to the absolute lowest point of pain, suffering, and abandonment a living person, any human being, can experience. Yet even in death, Christ brings grace and hope. Even to and beyond the grave, the love of God enters and seeks to redeem that.
As Christ proclaims the gospel and salvation to the lost in death we find this beautiful truth: no person, no place, no square inch of creation is now Godforsaken. Christ brings the redeeming and healing grace of God with him wherever he goes, even into the grave. Christ has brought liberation to the strongest of chains and redemption to the deepest of pains. Even in our darkest moments of anguish and abandonment, Christ meets us there and brings grace there.
This is why every week at the Word & Table service we confess “He descended into hell”. Because no matter what kind of Hell you find yourself in, no matter how Godforsaken you may feel, we believe that God is even there and at work. No person, no place, no circumstance, no event, no group of people, no experience, no pain suffering or hurt, is Godforsaken and beyond the loving presence of God.
So to those of us who feel that God has abandoned us and that we are left in silent anticipation just as the disciples were, know that you are not alone in your pain. Know that God in Christ by the power of the Spirit has gone all the way to the grave that nothing may be Godforsaken, though we may feel that way now. Whatever hell you may be walking through these days, know that you are not alone; Christ journeys with you stride for stride. Even in the silence and the darkness, God’s grace moves and is bringing hope to us all.