Reflections on COVID-19, Jesus, and Sabado de Gloria (Holy/Black Saturday)

I read Matt Anslow’s take on Holy Saturday a couple of years ago and it got me thinking. I grew up in a context in Western Canada where we didn’t really pay attention to the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. My introduction to that day was the idea of Black Saturday that occurs in the Philippines where one popular belief is that we need to stay at home because God is dead that day and can’t help you. (This is related to the idea that if you get injured on Good Friday the wound will never heal). More recently I became aware of a new name for the day in the Philippines — Sabado de Gloria (Glorious Saturday), which has an altogether more positive take on the day. 

How does this relate to the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s related restrictions? One of the lessons of the pandemic is that leadership is sometimes practiced from afar, most recently through videoconferencing technology. But apart from recent events, there are many other examples of ministry from afar. The Bible itself reflects the reality that much of ministry is from afar because the entire scripture is in written form. We don’t have direct access to the Biblical writers other than through their writings. This means that it was intended to be read in a variety of locations and times and mostly without the presence of the human author.

Another example is that of Jesus in the Grave. His time in the grave was more complex perhaps that we might first think. I think that I have always thought that Jesus rested while he was there, waiting for the Father to raise him from the dead. And to a certain extent that is true — Jesus was isolated in the grave. However, as Anslow points out, Jesus also took the opportunity while in the abode of the dead to minister to the souls in hell. That’s why we have a Sabado de Gloria to celebrate Jesus’ ministry to those who had been condemned.

I suspect the idea of Jesus in hell somehow went against some kind of theological idea that in the end led to us ignoring or explaining away the parts of Scripture that speak of this. But in spite of the absence of this in my tradition, the Bible does talk about Jesus’ actions while in the grave. For example, 1 Peter 4:6 reads, “After all, the Good News was told to people like that, although they are now dead. It was told to them so that they could be judged like humans in their earthly lives and live like God in their spiritual lives.” Likewise, Ephesians 4:9 tells us “Now what does it mean that he went up except that he also had gone down to the lowest parts of the earth?” To whom did Jesus preach while he was down in the “lowest parts of the earth”? Those who are “now dead.”

Fortunately not all theological traditions have had issues connecting Jesus with hell. We see this concept developed in several of the creeds. The Apostle’s creed says “Jesus Christ … descended into hell, rose again from the dead on the third day.” The Athanasian Creed says, “Christ; Who … descended into hell.” Tied into this is the concept of the “Harrowing of Hell” where Jesus basically invades hell (ala “and the gates of hell shall not prevail”), bringing Good News to the souls trapped there.

I think that’s pretty cool. It means that the enemy has no hope of winning. And that is the kind of message we want to hear after the events of 2020, 2021, and 2022.

What are your thoughts on Sabado de Gloria? Was it a part of your tradition growing up? What theological issues do you have with the idea of Jesus descending to hell?

Remember, sharing is what friends do.

Image is by Fra Angelico – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain.

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