Did Jesus Go to Hell?

On Holy Saturday (the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday) he did…

“hell” is biblical language that points to the state we are in when we’re not aware of our connection to life-giving support from the Source of Life—Consciousness itself, which many religious traditions call “God,” in one language or another. (For a bit of background on how hell is not a place where some people go when they die, see my post called “Heaven-and-Hell Christianity.”)

Lots of things can bring a person to a state of hell, and these are some of the situations I’m meditating on this morning, and praying for people touched by:

trauma, betrayal, abandonment, violence, a lifetime of microaggressions that diminish a person’s selfhood, war, lack of food/safety/love, death, stonewalled anger, institutional arrogance, toxins (both environmental or relational), etc.

Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication, says that all human beings have seven basic needs:

Connection, Physical Well-Being, Honesty, Play, Peace, Autonomy, and Meaning

and anything that creates a barrier between us and these seven essentials could be considered evil—evil because of their propensity to keep people from experiencing in their bones the biblical hope that regardless of how things “turn out,” that there will be victorious meaning within those circumstances. (For more on this, check out Fr. Richard Rohr’s little book Wondrous Encounters: Scriptures for Lent, p. 143).

In the traditional Apostle’s Creed, written in the first handful of centuries in the Church, Jesus

…suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and will come again to judge the living and the dead…

This brings me great comfort. The pictured image shown above is one of the many in the ancient Church depicting this understanding that the One called Jesus created a new way for hurt and wounded humanity (the dead) to return to the living. “The Harrowing of Hell,” as it’s called, is the mystical understanding that after Jesus faced his own hellish encounter on the cross, he was equipped in a unique way to free all souls who had been waiting for liberation from the beginning of the world. I love that! For it reminds us that God cares that not one of us should be lost—“even the hairs on your head are all counted” (Luke 12:7a).

Many people today—maybe even yourself—are in need of someone to help liberate them from hell—from a sense of separation and disconnect from living. A lay caregiving program called Stephen Ministry teaches that while Christ Jesus is the One who “unlocks the shackles” of hell, that we, as his followers, can hold onto the foot of the Cross while we reach down into the muddiness of that situation to give his loved ones a handhold to climb out. Of course, without holding onto Christ to do the heavy-lifting we can easily slide into the mud ourselves (just ask anyone who has ever suffered from compassion fatigue). But to sit in the pain of hell with someone, not trying to cheer them out of it, but just honoring this as part of the human condition in all its unique seasons, is an important way we help the world to WAIT for resurrection.

Many churches seem to jump from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday without helping folks to recognize that we all have Holy Weeks that crush us—sometimes many of them: Times in our lives that Jesus came to save us from experiencing in hellish ways—thinking we’re all alone as we face them. Today might be a good day to reach out to someone going through hell and let them know you’re thinking about them. It just might be the handhold they need to make it long enough to see the transformation/resurrection of this painful life circumstance that God holds out as promise for every one.

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