Friday 6 April 2012

Feeling Like Hell

By Edmund Lo, S.J.

One of our blog's faithful followers recently recommended Hemingway's “Today is Friday” in one of his comments, and I decided to check it out just to show that we really do appreciate our readers' comments. It is a short play concerning the conversation between three soldiers who were on guard during the crucifixion of Jesus. I find it quite an interesting read. All three soldiers bring intriguing perspectives in their own rights, but I will focus on the third soldier.

Throughout the entire play, he suffers from some kind of a stomach pain. He pleads with the other two to return to the barracks with him because he “feel(s) like hell tonight”, but stresses that it is neither because of the drinks nor the boys' night out; he simply feels like hell. We can make an educated guess that he is referring to how he feels after what transpired during the day, that is, the crucifixion.

I find Hemingway's portrayal of the third soldier very striking: it touches upon a key aspect of the Holy Saturday, one which is highlighted by the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. In his book Prayer, von Balthsar writes that to “… contemplate Holy Saturday is to contemplate the collapse of heaven into the horrors of the nether world”. It is literally like having the ground fall away under you. Imagine that. A hopeless free fall into nothingness.

It is tempting for us to dodge this feeling of the third soldier, to “feel like hell” because our Saviour has died. Just quickly gloss over it, utter it under our breath before quickly arriving at His Resurrection where sin and death no longer have the final word. We can also see everything through “linear time” and treat it as a mere historical event: “Yes, it has happened. A few tears were shed. But why dwell on it when the Lord has resurrected?”

We can only speak of the Resurrection of Christ because of His dying on the Cross. If we believe that Christ truly descended into hell after His death, then we must follow His path; but in what sense? Von Balthasar comments that we as the Church must, in some way, begin to contemplate this mystery of the Holy Saturday if we are serious about following Christ. This void of feeling like hell has its place in our own lives, both individually and as a part of the mystical Body of Christ.

Perhaps it is worth taking a few quiet moments today to sit with this aspect of Holy Saturday – to be like the third soldier – so to better comprehend in an incarnate way what the Resurrection means to us.

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