I am apt to think of Holy Saturday as a day to prepare for our Easter celebrations or an empty gap between Good Friday and the Resurrection. To many medieval Christians, Holy Saturday was the day of the “Harrowing of Hell,” when hell itself was despoiled (invaded, robbed of its power to destroy, conquered by Christ’s triumphal entry.) Harrowing is a derivative of the Old English word hergian, which means “to despoil.”
The Harrowing of Hell was a prevalent theme in medieval art and in early church drama—particularly the English mystery plays. The descent into hell was also a subject of the seventh-century poet Caedmon, and early church fathers such as John Chrystostom, Tertullian, and Irenaeus.
Christians worldwide proclaim the “Harrowing of Hell” when they recite the Apostles Creed. “Jesus Christ . . . was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day, he rose again . . .”
Biblically, two scriptures come to mind.
“Therefore, prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.'” Ezekiel 37:12
“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice.” John 5:28
On this Holy Saturday, as we prepare for Easter Sunday, let’s rejoice together that Jesus left no stone unturned in His atonement for our sins. His love surrounds us, reaching to the depths as well as the heights of our human experience.