Christ is Risen!
Ed Duncklee, St. Sebastian Director of Faith Formation.

During our First Communion preparation in March, one of the children asked a question about Jesus descending into hell in the Apostles Creed.  I talked about how the line expresses our belief that Jesus redeemed all godly people even those who came before him.

There is a beautiful icon (a prayer painting of the Eastern Church) that shows Jesus lifting up the blessed who died before him. This icon of the Resurrection dates back to the early days of the Church. It depicts not what happened on Easter Sunday; it actually reflects what happened on Holy Saturday. It does not show Christ coming out of the tomb, like a superhero, carrying a banner that says “I cheated death.” It shows our most merciful Lord, descending into Hades (Hell), and raising all those who had fallen through death.

The icon depicts Christ wearing all white garments, because He is the Light of the world.  The wounds in His hands and feet are visible. Christ is often shown carrying His cross, because only through the cross is the Resurrection possible. Sometimes instead of showing a Cross, the icon depicts Christ holding a scroll.  In either case, the cross or the scroll, both represent the message that Christ preached to the captives He found in hell when He descended there. Christ is standing on two doors, which are the brass gates of Hades, now broken down because of the Resurrection. They are in the shape of a cross.  Scattered near the gates are the locks and keys that bound humanity to Hades.

The most prominent figures in the icon, after the Lord, are Adam and Eve, the first human beings that God had fashioned, the symbols of a human race created in God’s image and likeness, who distorted that image through sin. Adam and Eve are now given a new chance and a restored image. For Christ, who in many places is called “the Second Adam,” has come to earth and done what the first Adam could not. He showed that it is possible to live a life in unity with God, demonstrating faith and love, and avoiding temptation. The reward for this life is eternal life, Resurrection from the dead.

The icon depicts many of the righteous figures who had preceded Christ.

  • A young man is often depicted in the icon. This is Abel, the first person to die, killed by the hand of his brother Cain, the first person to suffer death as a result of the Fall.  (Genesis 4)
  • Moses, the one whom God spoke through to give the people the Law is shown. It was Moses who instituted the first Passover.  It is very appropriate that he is present for the “new Passover,” the Resurrection.
  • David and Solomon, both kings, both ancestors of Christ, are depicted in the icon.  
  • John the Baptist, the forerunner and last of the prophets is also usually depicted.

Christ is shown grabbing the wrists of Adam and Eve. This is an important part of the icon. When people great one another and shake hands, this denotes a position of equality. You might even say that symbolically it means meeting one another half-way. The depiction of Christ grabbing the wrist of Adam tells us that we are not equal with God. We cannot even meet God half-way. But if we reach out to God, He is ready to grasp us by the wrist to take us with Him to Paradise. This is the most hopeful part of the icon. It reminds us that we have to reach out to God in faith, and let Him take care of the rest.

The Resurrection was made possible only because of the crucifixion. An earthly death was required in order for the Resurrection to occur. In our lives, an earthly death is required in order to inherit eternal life and enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. The depiction in the icon assures us that those who fall through death will be raised to eternal life because of the Resurrection of the Lord. The righteous figures of the Old Testament died with faith that something greater was coming. They did not immediately go to heaven, because Jesus had not yet come and died for them, as He did for us. Through the Resurrection, when we fall through death, we are raised to Paradise by the power and the mercy of Christ.

Jesus did not “cheat” death—He destroyed the power of death. We will not cheat death either. Each of us will eventually die an earthly death.  But because the Resurrection destroyed the power of death over us, when we die on this earth, we will be resurrected with Christ, the power “death” has over us will indeed be destroyed.

Remember this throughout the Easter season!


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