|The Harrowing of Hell|
“A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble, comes up like a flower and withers, flees like a shadow and does not last. Do you fix your eyes on such a one? Do you bring me into judgment with you? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one can. Since their days are determined, and the number of their months is known to you, and you have appointed the bounds that they cannot pass, look away from them, and desist, that they may enjoy, like laborers, their days.
“For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump dies in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant. But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they? As waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up, so mortals lie down and do not rise again; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused out of their sleep. O that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If mortals die, will they live again? All the days of my service I would wait until my release should come.”
- Job 14:1-14
What is the difference, I wonder, between death at a young age and death at an old age? What makes death at an old age perfectly natural and death at a young age senseless and awful? Where is the line between them?
It is so important to look at Holy Saturday from a pre-Resurrection perspective. I don’t think we can really understand it if we don’t. I wonder if the disciples ever thought about Jesus dying. Perhaps they imagined he would die as an old man, having accomplished the liberation of Israel from the Romans and having reigned over the nation for several decades. This would have been a fine death.
Were there any among them who saw Jesus as divine and therefore incapable of death? Maybe … but I doubt it. After all, he was clearly a man like any other man … just a really amazing man. Yet when everything began to unravel, and Jesus was taken away to be crucified, they couldn’t believe it. I don’t think this was because they didn’t believe Jesus could die. I think they just couldn’t imagine God would let it happen.
And this is the human condition around death. We all know it will come, yet when it comes at a time we perceive to be too soon, we just can’t believe it’s possible.
This reading from Job is appropriate for today because it laughs painfully at the notion that a human being, once dead, could return. Yet it’s not like it’s impossible for God. After all, mere water inspires plant life to reemerge. Why should it not be this easy for a man? It’s wistful and poetic and emotional and not the least bit scientific, but we can see the comparison and believe in our hearts that the possibility is there somewhere.
And the cycle of death and life goes on. And we wait—we are waiting, waiting, waiting—for our own deaths, for our release from pain, for the joy that will follow. That joy couldn’t possibly break into this vale of tears … could it?
This music video was the final one for Queen before the death of the band’s lead singer, Freddie Mercury. At this point, Mercury knew AIDS was killing him, but he hadn’t yet announced his disease to the world. The video is put together from older footage because Mercury was too ill to shoot anything new. One month after the song’s release, he did make an announcement that he was ill. Mercury died the next day. Here’s “The Show Must Go On.”
Stay tuned for another post featuring music for Easter.