"He Descended into Hell"

The past few weeks in chapel we have been reflecting on the different lines of the Creed; and when the schedule originally came out, I jumped on the chance to lead worship today, when the line was “he descended into the dead.”  That’s the new ELW default position, anyway, although it notes “descended into hell” is also an option–and I think it’s a better one.  In fact, I drive everyone around me crazy when we say the Creed, because I ALWAYS say “descended into hell.”  

The reason for that is, as far as I’m concerned, “he descended into hell” is the heart of what it means to say that Jesus saves us:  it illuminates so powerfully that God’s fundamental disposition to us is as a lover seeking out the beloved, refusing to leave us, refusing to abandon us, refusing to let us live or die alone.  Jesus’ descent into hell represents God’s presence in the darkest of dark places, the places of the most terrible suffering, the places that before Easter were considered “Godforsaken.”  The descent into hell changes all that–there is no more “Godforsaken”–and it points to the reality that God has flooded even the very nadir of human sinfulness with the light of God’s own presence.  The darkness now has nowhere to hide.  Regardless of the horrors we experience, and regardless of how abandoned and lost we may feel, we are not alone–God is with us, and promises to walk with us and carry through to daylight on the other side.  Jesus lived his life and ministry in that kind of solidarity, and continued right on up through his death into the resurrection.  It’s an almost unfathomable display of radical love–and it changes everything.

So, instead of preaching a sermon, I wrote a poem [of sorts…].  It’s not great–I’m no poet, but it does convey how much this idea means to me, and how much I think it matters for Christian faith today. So, I’m sharing it.
            “Jesus saves”—the Gospel message.
          The how and why—“he descended into hell.”
          Precious hours between cross and rolled-away stone.
          A sermon preached,
          A hand reached-down for Adam, for Eve—
          Pulled out of the pit by the scruff of their necks;
          And still time enough to find Judas, and hold him close and set him free.
          Precious hours between cross and rolled-away stone.

          For this he died:
          Not punishment, not sacrifice,
          But for this:  “he descended into hell.”
          And for this, he lived.

          He descended into hemorrhages:
            Unclean, impure, endlessly washing bloody rags—
          Cut off, cast-out, alone and untouchable.
          He descended into hell.
          He descended into sin exposed:
Nakedness, taintedness, temptress, adulterous;
Called-out, dragged-out, scorned and stoned-almost.
He descended into hell.
He descended into illness:
Demon-possessed, leprosy-ravaged,
Lame and helpless; passed by and overlooked at the Sheep Gate.
He descended into hell.
He descended into wayward:
Astray, off-course, obdurate, and afraid,
Lost sheep alone in the dark, in the valley, in the depths.
He descended into hell.
He descended into death:
Sisters grieving, neighbors weeping—the one no more
Wrapped and rank four days in a tomb.
He descended into hell.
He descended.
For thieves and Pharisees,
For pastors and prostitutes,
For tax-collectors and politicians.
He descended into hell.
He descended.
For the sex-trafficked and the drug-addled,
For the refugee and the migrant,
For the prisoner and the impoverished.
He descended into hell.

But the best, saved for last—the why.
Love, of course.
Love that will not leave alone,
Will not let suffer, grieve alone, die alone.
Love that walks with,
Holds up, carries across.
Love that forges a path, makes a way, builds a bridge.
Divine love that seeks out, insistent;
Self-gives, extravagant;
Draws near, persistent;
Dwells in, steadfast.
Love that says, “forever.”
Love that says, “forgiven.”
Love that says, “yes.”
Love that says, “come.”

He descended into hell,
And hell is obliterated and vacated;
flooded and flushed clean with love’s surging waters.
He descended into hell,
And hell is upended, and ended;
Damnable darkness banished in bright light everlasting.
He descended.
And so it is finished, and so it is just begun.

5 thoughts on “"He Descended into Hell"

  1. Dr. Largen,

    This poem is an incredible message. Could I have your permission to print this as an insert in the bulletin for our Easter services?

    Brian R Campbell


  2. Very powerful. Exposes that space of time and place between Good Friday and Easter Sunday that we gloss over: “Precious hours between cross and rolled-away stone.” Thank you for this.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s