“I order you, O sleeper, to awake! I did not create you to be 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 am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.”
-from a 4th century, Holy Saturday, ancient homily (author unknown)
I was given this quote and homily a few years ago by my spiritual director. It is one of my favorite quotes. It reminds me of so many things. It is a quote that I will remind myself of in times of darkness and despair.
We were never created for hell. That is a truth. None of us were created for the place of eternal separation from God. And, I would imagine, that none of us wants to purposefully go there. So, we remember on this Holy Saturday the action that was taken on our behalf to release those who have died, lying in wait for redemption. We believe that Jesus came to save the living AND the dead.
So, what about the living? In what ways do you and I find ourselves in hell? We can say something like, “I’m in a living hell here.” We are saying that we are enslaved to a situation or life that is taking life away from us or is confining us in some way. We are feeling enslaved. In what ways have we experienced this kind of living hell? A relationship? The death of a loved one? A job or career? Sexuality? Societal or cultural pressures? Family expectations? There are so many ways in this life that we can become enslaved.
Yet, we remember today that Jesus not only descended into hell to release the dead from their imprisonment. Jesus also released us from our living hells as well. We are created in a spirit of life, not death. We are created in an image and likeness of growth, not diminishment. We are made to become more, not less. We are made to share our gifts, not hide them under a bushel basket.
These hells can be of our own making or made for us. However, we are not destined to live there. We are called to move out of that small, enslaved space into a larger space of redemption, freedom, expansion, and new life! We are meant to rise and go forth to a new space, a new place of restoration. A place where we are to become more of the person we have been created to be! Just as we heard in the movie, Dirty Dancing, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” we are reminded again today on this Holy Saturday that we are not meant to be held small, insignificant, or disgraced. Because we have the One who comes to us, extends his hand out to us, and calls us to a new space of freedom and life!
Our hells can become a type of “comfort zone” for us. They are familiar and we become used to the environment. Is that really where we want to stay? Or do we desire more than this living hell? Are we willing to take the risk of moving beyond that “comfort zone” into a space that might end up being more than we expected? Taking the risk is not an easy venture, but neither was the journey of redemption that was given to us. Why waste that gift of redemption on a space that is familiar, yet lifeless?
We have been saved for a life of redemption, both in the next life and in this life. How are we living in that redemption? And if we are in a “living hell,” then how might we move out of it? What or who do we need to move us from hell to new life? Might there be a hand reaching out to us and offering to help us into the open space of our authentic, life-giving, loving selves?