Thought for the week. 3rd May 2020. ‘Good Shepherd Sunday.’
Gospel John 10: 1-10. Psalm 23.
Few people say the Apostles Creed regularly these days unless they attend Evening Prayer on a Sunday evening. It is in that Creed that we use the important phrase, that statement of belief, that “He (Jesus) descended into hell.” Sometimes people are shocked about Jesus’ descent into hell. Hell is believed to be the eternal abode of sinners and evil doers. In his parable about Lazarus and the rich man, Jesus indicates that once a person descends into Hell, the person cannot crossover to Heaven (Lk 16: 26).
The statement that “Christ descended into Hell” is both biblical (in the Bible) and theological (faith seeking understanding). Jesus Christ was buried in the tomb and he descended into Hell. The New Testament affirms several times that Jesus was "raised from the dead" (Mt 28: 1-20; Mk 16: 1-20; Lk 24:1-49; Jn 20: 1- 21:25; 1 Peter 3:19). This presupposes the crucified Lord went to the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection on the Third Day.
Jesus went to Hell to liberate souls who have been held ‘in prison.’ The task of Jesus in descending into Hell was for liberation of the Old Testament holy people. Some theologians explain that Jesus Christ went into Hell to experience the full rigour of suffering, which is the full impact for human sin, so as to give a comprehensive atonement for the sin of humanity. Others stress that Jesus went there so that no-one, no situation, was totally beyond the reach of his love, no place too dark.
Jesus descended into Hell as the Saviour, proclaiming the Good News of salvation to the souls that were imprisoned there before his Resurrection. All souls awaited the Redeemer. Jesus Christ redeemed the holy souls who awaited in Abraham's bosom (Ps 89:49; 1 Sam 28:19; Ezek 32:17-32; Lk 16:22- 26). Jesus Christ was the first person to be raised from the dead (Rom 8:23; 1 Cor 5: 7-8; 16.)
Jesus’ descent into Hell brought the Gospel message of salvation to definitive fulfilment. Jesus’ descent into Hell for a redemptive purpose was the last phase of Jesus's messianic mission. That is Christ's redemptive work to all people of all times and places. The Risen Christ holds "the keys of Death and Hades (Hell)" so that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth”(Rev1:18;Phil2:10).
Well, I might hear you say, what has that got to do with Good Shepherd Sunday? Well, Jesus is portrayed as the shepherd who will do anything to save his sheep, his loved ones. He will even sacrifice his own life for them.
In the psalm set for today, the well known psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd” the Psalmist says this:
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
In this present time of danger, in the ‘hellish places’ like the ICU where doctors and nurses risk their own wellbeing to save the lives of others, there Jesus will go. Where people are surrounded by the darkness of the shadow of death, the searing pain of bereavement, there Jesus will go to be with them and lead them.
Let us pray that in whatever form of Hell or darkness people find themselves, they may hear the sound of the voice of the Jesus who loves them and that his voice and his presence will comfort them and lead them home.
With love to you all,
Pictures this week, from St. Stephen on the Cliffs, Chapel of All Souls (The Columbarium)