Dear Brothers & Sisters,
There is an ancient homily on Holy Saturday from an unknown author from the first centuries that reflects on Christ’s death and resurrection that reads, “Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.” The author writes that Christ “has gone to search for our first parent, as for the lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve.” Jesus descent into the dead illustrates Christ saving those who have died since the beginning of human history. This is what the icon on the front page represents. It’s called “the Descent” or the Descent into Hades or by its Greek name “Anastasis.”
The resurrection of Christ that we celebrate today is preceded by his descent into the dead, those from below (inferos in Latin). Christ technically does not go to hell, but to the place where the just were awaiting the coming of the Messiah. In the Bible, this place is referred by it’s Jewish name, Sheol. In this icon we have Jesus reaching out to Adam and Eve. It’s interesting to note that Jesus does not hold them by the hand. According to tradition, he holds them by the wrist, signifying that we cannot meet God halfway. But when we reach out to God, He is ready to come to our rescue to take us to paradise. We are called to make the move to reach out to Him by faith, and he will take care of the rest. David and Solomon are represented on the right side next to John the Baptist who points them to Jesus. On the right side we have the prophets represented by Moses and Elijah and Abel the just man (holding the staff). Below Jesus, we see the doors of death destroyed by Christ. The Easter Hymn reads that “Christ has trampled down death by death.” The icon depicts Hebrews 2:14, “that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” The power of the devil and death have been destroyed through the life-giving death of our Savior. The figure that is bound is death or satan, defeated by Christ’s death and resurrection. The keys and chains scattered in darkness next to it represents the power of death to bind humanity that has been destroyed.
There are a few more details that some icons show better than others, but the main point is Christ that by dying comes to rescue those who are dead by sin, those who are struggling with addictions, those are “enslaved by the devil out of fear of death” (Heb 2:15), those who are awaiting the Messiah. He comes for everyone! That’s one of the greatest news that one can receive: CHRIST HAS NOT FORGOTTEN US! CHRIST COMES TO OUR ASSISTANCE! As the good shepherd he comes looking for those who may have strayed from the sheepfold, those who may have their faith/hope shaken recently, and finding us, he grabs us by the wrist to bring us into heaven. He does not give us a hard time, nor does he come preaching to us, but like the father of the prodigal son, he opens his arms, embraces us, and restores our dignity of children of God. His white vestments represent the light of the world that enlightens our lives. The same way which on Mt Tabor he was transfigured in front of Peter, James and John, today again he shines the glory of the resurrection on us. He allows us to experience heaven TODAY!
Finally Brothers and Sisters, this Easter Sunday is not merely celebrated for 24 hours. TODAY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY of the whole year! That’s why the Church celebrates Easter for 50 days, up to Pentecost. Some of the most important moments of the church happen now. We have 3 people becoming Catholics this weekend, a celebration of Divine Mercy next Sunday (Novena this week at 7:00pm), 80 children receiving first communion, 70 youths receiving confirmation, many, many children who will be baptized these days, also couples who will be getting married. It’s a season of Joy, Peace, and Life. Even nature experiences this Passover, passing from the death of winter to the life of spring! The days will get warmer and longer! I hope and pray that the Risen Christ may come to our lives and give us eternal life.
Father Steven Clemence