Holy Saturday: When Hell Trembles with Fear

Holy Saturday: When Hell Trembles with Fear

On Holy Saturday, or as it is technically known in the Church’s Latin Sabbatum Sanctum, we commemorate Jesus’ death. Typically it is a day of silence and reflection. Jesus is dead and his body is laid in the tomb. But this is not the understanding of the Church at all.

It is true that this day is interpreted by its silence. Let us not forget what the ancient homily on Holy Saturday tells us: 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 earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began.

But, and contrary to what some may think, this silence is not at all passive. This answer is precisely diametrically opposite to this: the King is at work. He is on the move to the extent that Hell trembles with fear. How can God, who has died in the flesh, make Hell tremble with fear? The author of this fascinating homily continues: He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a 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, He who is both God and the Son of Eve.

Here we notice something extraordinary: we have a God who goes out for the lost sheep, who are desperately in the pit and wanting to get out of it. This God made Man, in Jesus Christ, chooses to continue his salvific work even when he dies for the world. Like the Good Shepherd He goes after the lost sheep to rescue it and return it to the House of the Father.

The text of this ancient homily highlighted this aspect so well when it says: 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, He who is both God and the Son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone, ‘My Lord be with you all.’ Christ answered him: ‘And with your spirit.’ He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’

This magnificent awakening, which occurs as the Lord descends into hell, shows us the wonderful character of this Saving God Made Man, Jesus Christ. In the Homily Jesus himself says:

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in Hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I in you; together we form one person and cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the Cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in Paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in Hell. The sword that pierced Me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly Paradise. I will not restore you to that Paradise, but will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The Bridal Chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The Kingdom of Heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

By becoming like you and me, a human being, the God Made Man, Jesus Christ, saved us. He saved us by commanding us to come out of our tombs of death, despair, anguish, anxiety and you name it, so as to be enlightened by his Resurrection to light. Jesus saved us by dying in our place so that you and I might live forever. Jesus keeps saving us if we let Him live in us through his Spirit, the Holy Spirit we all received at our baptism and confirmation and, for some of us, in our priestly ordination. Hence, the salvation he brought us once and for all is on if we keep our constant union with Him.

Jesus saved us because he took the form of a slave, suffering, helpless and defenceless. He let himself be betrayed and crucified. He underwent all the physical, psychological and spiritual torments as one could imagine, if ever, for us and our salvation. He keeps saving us by breathing on us the Holy Spirit, as He breathed on the Apostles on the day of his resurrection as the Gospel of John tells us so well.

The spittle on his face, the scourging, the crucifixion and the sword that pierced his side, are all pointers of his great saving love for all of us. Let us collaborate with Jesus by letting him take us by the hand to leave this place of sin and death and let him lead us into His heart, our very life. In our pilgrimage towards Him he gave us a cherubim to protect us in our way. The Kingdom of Heaven, our endless grace, is at our disposal from all eternity. Blessed are we if we collaborate with his grace!  

In a nutshell, and thanks to this outstanding homily we now can see that Holy Saturday is the Joyous Saturday and the Saturday of Light because Christ has given us salvation in its entirety. What he told us in John’s Gospel, namely that I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10) has now come true. What a salvific character Holy Saturday possesses!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Written by
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap