Holy Saturday: Don’t Look Back

My parents met in singing class, so when they grew up, naturally, they joined the local amateur operatic society. I was too young to go to the shows, but I do remember once being allowed to (or maybe the babysitter got sick and I had to) go to see the dress rehearsal. The show was Orpheus in the Underworld, and my mother played Eurydice.

It was my first introduction to the theme. It is a spoof of the classic tale, but even in this version, Eurydice ends up (eventually unwillingly) in the Underworld, captured by Pluto, and her husband (however unwillingly) tries to rescue her. Orpheus is to lead Eurydice above ground, but if he looks back, he will lose her forever. At the last minute, Jupiter makes him jump, and he looks, and all is lost.

Years before I knew that Lot’s wife + looking back = pillar of salt; or the Gospel tale that putting one’s hand to the plough + looking back = loopy furrows; I had learned from that parody of Greek mythology that when Hades is behind you, you don’t look back.

Which brings us to Holy Saturday. According to the Apostles’ Creed, after Jesus was crucified, he descended to the dead. Other translations permit “descended to Hell.” The early Church Fathers were liberal with the name Hades; the traditions of the Underworld were alive and well (despite their location). Dante’s Inferno allows Jesus as far as Limbo, to lift out Moses and other deserving souls from their state of sleeping death. The harrowing of Hell broke open the barriers that held the dead captive, and opened up even to them the possibilities of eternal life.

But did Jesus look back?

Could love ever not look back? Did Jesus, in the harrowing of Holy Saturday, overcome the temptation to look back? Or did love, real Love, which looked only for the sake of the beloved, and not for its own sake, overcome the “looking back curse?”

Would the one who left ninety-nine sheep safely penned alone to look for one who was lost ever stop looking, even on the road out of Hell?

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