Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wild speculation…

On Easter Sunday, multiple folk showed me an article in the previous day’s Star Tribune. Titled, “What did Jesus do on Holy Saturday?,” the story discusses ideas proposed by theologians across history- and still today- regarding the time between Jesus’ death and resurrection. Did he hang out in Heaven with the Mother and the Holy Spirit, watch an episode or several of Glee? Perhaps he caught up on divine taxes, after years on earth preaching about God’s Kingdom (reminder: our Tax Day cometh!).

Oh no, some theologians suggest, none of these wild speculations suffice. Rather, according to an ancient doctrine, Jesus spent the intervening hours in Hell. That’s right- Hades. Or as Jesus would’ve called it, Sheol. Ever recite the Apostle’s Creed, among Christianity’s most widely used creeds? About halfway through, the text says, “I believe…Jesus Christ…was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into Hell…” I remember being greatly confused when encountering that as a child. In seminary, having to teach this Creed to youth in my internship church, the phrase, “he descended into hell,” made all of us wince! “Why would he go to hell? What would that accomplish? And really, Shane, do you believe Hell exists?!”

For the record, I’m agnostic regarding Hell. I don’t know if it’s real or not, though I lean toward “not”. What I do believe is that it makes little sense for Christians to worry about it. For, a) God is Love, and b) Jesus is victorious! That’s enough for me to think our eternal destiny’s within God’s embrace.

Nevertheless, there’s much speculation about Hell in scripture and church tradition. Specifically, for our purposes, this little-known doctrine called, “The Raising of Hell.” It postulates that when Jesus died, he “descended into Hell,” and there opened the gates of Satan’s abode to let the dead go free. People debated whom, exactly, Jesus liberated- Israel’s prophets and patriarchs? All dead Jews? “The just” of every nation, ethnic/religious background notwithstanding? But whatever your liking, the ancient consensus was that it happened, that before the glorious Easter morning, our Lord was busy!

Now, it seems to me that this doctrine hinges on ancient conceptions of the after-life. 1st century Jews like Jesus (similar to other cultures, like Greece) believed in a kind of eternal ‘holding cell’ called Sheol (Hades, for the Greeks). There, disembodied spirits of dead folk awaited the End of Days, at which point God would pronounce the Last Judgment. Notice, this idea doesn’t contain all the fire, brimstone, torture and horror that titillate the modern imagination. Sheol, instead, sounds boring. Kinda quiet. A yawn. But ancient Christians believe that the saints, the beloved of God, warranted more exuberant surroundings- Paradise, in fact. And that’s what Jesus died to ensure God’s beloved, they said. Thus, he opened Sheol’s gates, set the captives free, race y’all to the buffet table!

Nowadays, however, we describe the world differently. We understand things like time’s relativity, the principle of parallel universes, the interdependency of even the smallest of life’s building blocks. Even the presenting question- What did Jesus do on Holy Saturday?- sounds a bit beside the point, for my way of thinking. I presume the advent of death ushers in a dramatically different (and mysterious) consciousness, one that wipes away our current perceptions of time, i.e. each second giving way to the next. And if that’s true (who knows, really?!), then it’s not like Jesus had 36 hours to kill after he was killed. Instead, he entered a time where time meant something wildly, totally different! Where all that was conscious wasn’t consumed by seconds, but saturated by grace. Where each moment of all reality is both present/at-hand and redeemed by God’s love.

In other words, when Jesus died, he didn’t do anything. He simply entered the Ultimate Reality where all that needing doing- forgiveness, salvation, glory- was finished, from everlasting to everlasting. Well, I guess he did one thing. He returned to life in our midst, revealing what incredible things awaited. Indeed, what incredible things should be our reality now, if only we’d work and love enough to create Paradise now.

Grace and Peace,


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