In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

As witnesses to Holy Baptism we confessed in the Apostles’ Creed that Jesus Christ was crucified, dead, and buried, and descended into hell. That means joy for Adam and Eve and all their children. We have already enjoyed the Easter Shout, the lights and the cacophony.  Now let’s listen to the jubilation in a world that without our Lord’s death and resurrection would be a shadowland, a prison house for ghosts. 

That Jesus was raised from the dead presupposes that he was in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection.  But he descended there in the spirit as the Savior, proclaiming by his presence the Good News to the departed.  And he rose victorious, because it was not possible for death to hold him.[1]  This is the preaching of St. Peter, but Jesus himself said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”[2]       

The Catechism in our Prayer Book addresses this crucial sojourn of our Lord between his death and his Resurrection in its section “God the Son”:  “Q. What do we mean when we say that he descended to the dead?  A. We mean that he went to the departed and offered them also the benefits of redemption.”[3]

An ancient hymn of the Syrian Church celebrates this first part of Jesus’s victory using the Lord as the speaker, not unlike the beloved carol “My Dancing Day”: “Hell saw me and was vanquished.  Death could not bear my face.  I made of the dead an assembly of the living.  I spoke to them with living lips / So that my word should not be in vain.  They ran towards me, the dead.  They cried out, ‘Take pity on us, O Son of God!  Deliver us out of the darkness that fetters us.  Open the gate for us that we may go out with you.  We see that death has no hold on you.  Deliver us also, for you are our Savior!’  And I heard their voices and I traced my name on their heads.  So they are free and they belong to me.  Alleluia!”[4]

Jesus often worked wonders on the Sabbath, thereby offending his religious enemies who used these occasions to build up their case against him as a Law-Breaker.  Here he is at it again on Holy Saturday, the Lord of the Sabbath after his death, using the Sabbath to extend his reach to all times and places to all who welcome his appearing. 

Meanwhile his disciples observed the Sabbath commandment.  The women among them could not finish the work of anointing Jesus’s body on Good Friday evening because it was the Sabbath eve.  They had to wait till after the Sabbath sundown and the dawn of the Third Day, Sunday, the First Day of the Week.  So very early Mary Magdalene and other women went to the tomb.  But Jesus’s body was gone.  The angel in the earthquake rolled away the large stone.  The high priest’s guards, blinded by unbelief, became like dead men – and were later paid by the high priests to say that Jesus’s disciples had stolen away his body in order to say he was risen.[5]  The angel told the women those very three words: that Jesus, whom they sought, was not there because, indeed, he was risen.  Go tell his disciples, said the angel. 

They ran, in fear and great joy, and….There was Jesus, right there.  “Hail!” he said.  What is left to say?  Tonight, just one more thing.

Baptism unites us to Christ’s death and resurrection. That means daily life no longer needs to be one of mere survival, of bare existence, of people whose vital signs may register bodily health while they are sick unto death in the soul; of having no hope in this world, without God and without wisdom, except for “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  That old business is buried with Christ in his death, and we rise to new life with him in his resurrection.  The hour has certainly come, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.     

Alleluia.  Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.   


[1] I Peter 3:18-19 and Acts 2:24.

[2] St. John 5:25

[3] The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 850.

[4] Celebrating the Seasons, compiled by Robert Atwell.  Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2006, p. 221.

[5] St. Matthew 28:11-15.

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