Holy Saturday and the Harrowing of Hell

This is what I wrote for my Good Friday reflection in the collection put together by the Rev. Gayle Catinella on behalf of several members of clergy in the Diocese of Ohio:

 O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction. (Hosea 13:14)
My brother said, “No one knows what it’s like to be dead.”
I was puzzled; “Grandpa knows.”
My brother was unconvinced. “No one knows what it’s like to be dead, because no one can ever tell them.”
I persisted, “Grandpa’s dead, so he knows what it’s like.” Reaching for some heavier emotional clout, “George the fifth knows.”
George was the fifth in a series of short-lived hamsters. My brother had sat up with him into the night. Now, he hit me.
“I’m telling,” I cried, as usual.
“If you do,” he threatened, “I’ll tell them what you said about Grandpa.”
It was my first introduction to the idea that death was scandalous, that to die was a betrayal, a shame.
I began to notice how people whispered around death, not using its name but a variety of euphemisms, how they looked off in the distance and let their words trail after their gaze. Death was not fit for polite company. It was indelicate and indiscreet and occasionally downright rude.
And here, in church on Good Friday, was Jesus, doing it right in front of everybody, shameless and scandalous, indiscreet and indifferent to the spectacle he made, forgiving people left and right and crying out to God, with his mother looking on, as though dying were nothing to be ashamed of.
“Jesus knows,” I told my brother. “That’s different,” he said, but I didn’t think it was.


Psalm 88 asks the question,

Do you work wonders for the dead? Will those who have died stand up and give you thanks? Will your loving-kindness be declared in the grave, your faithfulness in the land of destruction? Will you wonders be known in the dark, or your righteousness in the country where all is forgotten?

Holy Saturday answers, yes.
Yes, God speaks to the dead.
Yes, God reaches into the grave.
Yes, no one is lost to God.
Yes, no one is beyond God’s reach.
Yes, you who are dead and gone, you know the love of God.

Jesus knows what it is like to be you, and Jesus loves you.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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1 Response to Holy Saturday and the Harrowing of Hell

  1. Today is the 55th anniversary of my father’s death. I very much appreciate what you have written for yesterday and for today.

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