He Descended

Christians are taught that he descended, and today, Holy Saturday, if you could get inside St. Swithin’s the Crazed, you would see the tabernacle door standing open, and the space within, empty. The reserved sacrament, the body and blood of the Lord, are gone, because He is gone. The first time I saw it, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

So where did he go? I can’t tell you with any certainty, because the Book of Common Prayer gives that sentence two different endings:

He descended into hell. (p. 53)

He descended to the dead. (p. 96)

If you want to know as much as I do about why there are two versions, you can take a look at this excellent article from a Methodist publication. (Hmmm, I wonder what their prayer book says.) From it, I conclude that it is a dicey proposition to assert that Jesus entered into the place of eternal torment we call Hell and stayed there for a while. (But everybody agrees he eventually came back from wherever he went.)

It is a powerful idea nonetheless, as Hahn describes:

A whole mythology arose about Jesus rescuing people from the netherworld after the crucifixion. The Gospel of Nicodemus, which dates to the third century and did not make the Bible cut, offers a narrative of Jesus retrieving Adam and other Old Testament figures from Satan’s clutches.

He descended, but maybe to a place of the dead that is not so terrible.

And now he is gone from the tabernacle. Is he less present among us? Has he left the world?

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