READ: Gen 2:18-25; Gen 3.
The Lord God said: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him. So the Lord God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name. The man gave names to all the tame animals, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be a helper suited to the man.
So the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The Lord God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. When he brought her to the man, the man said:
“This one, at last, is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
This one shall be called ‘woman,’
for out of man this one has been taken.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body. The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.
Now the snake was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He asked the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” The woman answered the snake: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’” But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know[b] good and evil.” The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves...Then the Lord God said to the snake:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.
On Holy Saturday we celebrate the mystery of Jesus' "decent into hell", not the Hell of the damned, in which one suffers the eternal lack of God, but in Hebrew "sheol". Heaven is closed by the sin of Adam and Eve. But what happens to the righteous souls who died before Jesus could open the gates again? "Sheol" is the place where those souls waited, in a sense, for God to set them free. This event of Holy Saturday is also called the "harrowing of hell" (probably the coolest name for anything ever). "Harrowing" means to rob or steal. On the Cross Jesus robs death of it's power on a cosmic scale. Today, we are called to acknowledge the breadth of this victory over death. Jesus doesn't just beat death, he run rules it, then keeps on swinging. Wait... victory over death? Don't we have to wait until tomorrow (Easter) for that? No! Think of the decent into hell like a teaser trailer. Trailers prepare us for, and invite us to take part in a movie. Meditating on the souls of the dead set free prepares us to receive the new life that Jesus has for us in the Resurrection. To further this point let's read an excerpt from an ancient homily on Holy Saturday (Seriously, take the time to read this, it's incredible):
Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parents, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
[To Adam he says] I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held 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. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.
How can you prepare your heart today to receive the victory of the Resurrection tomorrow?
How does Jesus want to conquer death in you today?
R. You will not abandon my soul to Sheol
Lord, my allotted portion and my cup,
you have made my destiny secure.
Pleasant places were measured out for me; fair to me indeed is my inheritance.
Bless the Lord who counsels me;
even at night my heart exhorts me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
with him at my right hand, I shall never be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure,
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, nor let your devout one see the pit.
You will show me the path to life,
abounding joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.
R. You will not abandon my soul to Sheol
What do you take from your prayer today?