The rest of the world may celebrate Earth Day on the third Saturday of April, but I celebrate it on Holy Saturday. Holy Saturday is the day that Jesus descends to the dead and hallows the earth. This is the day when the air feels different on my dog walk, the winds empty and still, the day when I am tempted to contemplate God’s absence in the tomb and then I remember Jesus beneath the earth and the very stones suddenly ripen with the promise of resurrection. If it also feels empty, that is all right, too, for in the Buddhist world, emptiness is the greatest gift, the greatest spiritual attainment, for in emptiness, all my hopes and fears have dissolved and I can live fully in the Now.
This is the day, according to Christian legend, when Jesus rescues all the prisoners from all the Hells we have put ourselves into.
At the Saturday night vigil we begin the mysteries of Easter. We kindle the first light of new time. We read the stories of God creating, loving and saving us. We read of the dry bones of dispair taking on flesh and rising to return to their home. Hollywood may see such living dead as the ultimate horror movie, but God has no horror. God comes to tell us that nothing, whether for good or for ill, nothing ever dies. The task of the spiritual life is not to kill my sins or my enemies but transform them with love. Tonight we open the tomb where that love has been hidden. Tonight we welcome Jesus back from death.
Lent is over. Some of us kept it well, some of us, including me, kept it less well, some of us kept it not at all. It doesn’t matter. Lent keeps you. Or as the great fourth century preacher John Chrysostom says in his Easter homily:
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!
Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?