The Triumph Over The Tomb

Each Holy Saturday, we recall, with a heavy heart, Jesus' sojourn into death in the tomb. We are taught that "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; He was buried; and He was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures." (1 Corinthians 15.3b-4) What significance does His time in the tomb hold for our faith?

In the death of Jesus, the Church teaches that His soul was separated from His body; yet He did not experience the full extent of death that those before Him had known: "But God raised Him up, releasing Him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for Him to be held by it… neither was He abandoned to the netherworld nor did His flesh see corruption." (Acts 2.24,31) Though His mortal nature had passed away, His divine nature preserved Him as He remained in union with His Father throughout the three days.

Reflecting on Christ's death, we are drawn to recall times when we tasted the finality of death through the loved ones we have lost. We experience death second-hand and from only one side - for the living, the experience of death and beyond remains very much shrouded in mystery.

Fear of this unknown ending to life can be at the heart of much suffering in our lives. The fear of death can take root deep in the heart, yielding a deep and overwhelming sense of despair and lack of purpose. Throughout our lives, we rely on relationships with others to provide our lives with meaning and purpose. Death strips all of this away as we enter into the final act of life mortally alone. This was expressed by the Psalmist: "I was caught by the cords of death; the snares of Sheol had seized me; I felt agony and dread." (Psalm 116.3)

Jesus experienced this deep angst for Himself and for all humankind as He prepared for His own death at the garden of Gethsemane. Uniting our hearts with His in times of despair, we find solace and strength in prayer. In the Resurrected Christ, our hope is restored. The Psalmist prayed: "Then I called on the name of the Lord, 'O Lord, save my life!' Gracious is the Lord and just; yes, our God is merciful… Return, my soul, to your rest; the Lord has been good to you. For my soul has been freed from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living." (Psalm 116.4,5,7-9)

Jesus made the promise of salvation from death when He said: "Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live… Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation." (John 5.25,28-29) The life of the soul is everlasting; but eternal life in Christ remains held for those who have awakened to the truth of their own sinfulness, have repented, and have accepted the mercy of Christ Jesus.

In our baptism, we symbolically shared in Christ's death to sin through immersion. In baptism, seeds of hope in the promise of eternal life in Christ are planted. "We were indeed buried with Him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life." (Romans 6.4)

This poem expresses the hope of eternal life and its power over death:

Eternal Hope

The silence of the cold stone cave,
Entombed His flesh for the Sabbath;
Beyond the confines of the grave,
His soul pierced through the shroud of death.

The gates of hell could not prevail
O'er the Firstborn who holds the key;
The Savior's power cannot fail
For those who trust in His mercy.

The fear of death has lost its sting;
Hope in eternal life is born
In Him, whose death and suffering,
Yielded new life on Easter morn.

Love has reached past life's last frontier;
We hope in Him as death draws near.

Holy Spirit, strengthen my hope in times of despair and in the face of death, that the surety of God's merciful love and the promise of eternal life may sustain my faith at the hour of death. Amen.


New American Bible - Catholic Edition

Catechism of the Catholic Church,
Paragraphs 624 - 637

Pope Benedict XVI, Introduction to Christianity,
© 2004 Ignatius Press, San Francisco, p. 293 - 301

prepared by:

Paul Buis

(c) Paul Buis, 2007