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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

1159: by descending into the realm of death, all of creation began to rise up into the New Life

1159: Sunday, May 21, 2023

The theologians of the early Church also taught that, by descending into the realm of death, all of creation began to rise up into the New Life.

Today is the last Sunday of Easter season, when we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord.

After Easter, the Risen One appeared to his disciples over the course of forty days. Then he gathered with his disciples atop a hill and promised them that, if he should return to his Father, the Father would send down, into the world, the Holy Spirit. And then,

When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.

The Ascension of the Savior lights the mystical fire that lies at the heart of Easter Faith. In the Ascension of the Lord, all of creation begins to accompany the Risen One, rising out of the tomb and into the New Life.

Today, the Church is inviting us to immerse ourselves in this Mystery that has seized the universe itself. To do this, I want to tell you about Adam. Or more properly, I want to tell you about how the New Adam, the Risen Christ, held out his hand to the Old Adam, who was lost in the darkness of Hell.

From the earliest days of the Church, Christians have recognized a profound connection between the Risen Christ and Adam.

In his Gospel, Saint Mark gives us what might seem to be an unimportant detail about the death of Jesus: “They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha, which means the place of the skull.”

One of the great theologians of the early Church, Origen, claimed that the place where Jesus was crucified was called “the place of the skull” because this is where Adam was buried. Christ, the New Adam, dies at the place where the Old Adam is lies buried.

Christians in the Middle Ages loved this idea. Often, in Medieval art, a skull and bones can be seen at the foot of the cross of Jesus. These are the skull and bones of Adam.

In many Medieval paintings, blood drips from the wounds of the Savior to the foot of the cross and then onto the bones of the Old Adam, buried there at “the place of the skull.”

But the connection between Adam and the Risen Christ reaches much deeper into Christian mysticism. Building on hints in the Scriptures, the early theologians began to talk about the “Harrowing of Hell.”

After dying on the cross, the Savior “descended into Hell,” as the early creeds taught. To “harrow” means to attack, besiege or beleaguer. But the Savior descended into Hell not only to harass the the demons. He descended into the realm of death in search of Adam – Adam, the one through whom death came to us all.

I have often wondered what this encounter must have been like: the New Adam extending his wounded hand to the Old Adam, and saying, “the time has finally come, your exile has come to an end.”

And then, grasping the Old Adam firmly by the hand, the crucified Savior began is ascent from the realm of the dead.

But the teaching of the old theologians went further. Eve grabbed her husband’s hand as the Resurrection began. And then Able grabbed his mother’s hand. Noah and

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Ruth and Leah, David and Solomon joined hands. And then Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. They all held tightly to one another as the Risen Christ began to ascend.

The theologians of the early Church also taught that, by descending into the realm of death, all of creation began to rise up into the New Life.

Remember, Saint Paul tells us that, in the catastrophe brought upon us through Adam, “creation was made subject to futility.” In the Resurrection, not just Adam, but all of creation is being raised up into the New Life.

The early theologians had a word for this: apokatastasis. (This word literally means “restoration” or “to be brought to completion”).

Today, we celebrate the Mystery of the Ascension of the Lord. This is a mystical teaching. We are surrounded by people who cannot imagine the apokatastasis of the universe. We are surrounded by people who simply presume that creation is still subjected to futility. Life is a knife-fight. The guy with the sharpest knife and the meanest motives will die with the most toys. The future will be decided as it has always been decided: by the survival of the fittest.

As people of Easter Faith, we must show those who live lives of quiet desperation the Mystery of Christian hope. The blood of the crucified Savior drips from his wounds to the foot of the cross and onto the bones of Adam. After his death on the cross, the New Adam descended into Hell in search of the Old Adam.

And here begins creation’s apokatastasis.

Today is the Solemnity of the Ascension. In the return of the Risen Christ to the Father, the restoration of the universe itself has begun. But it has only begun. Next Sunday is Pentecost when we will remember that the Risen Christ has returned to the Father and the Holy Spirit has been poured out on all of creation.

Do not lose hope. Christ has ascended. And the universe is following him. And in the meantime the Spirit hovers over the world to make sure we don’t let go of each other’s hands.

Reflection and Homily by Jim Fredericks

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