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Where Was Jesus When the Lights Went Out

Where Was Jesus When the Lights Went Out?

    If Moses was inserted in this question where "Jesus" is named, the answer, according to my childhood book of puzzles, would be: "Down in the cellar eating sauerkraut."  It rhymes but doesn't make much sense.  Unless, of course, your roots are eastern Europe where the brined cabbage has for millennia enjoyed a position of high esteem among that region's culinary delights. 

    But where, tell me, did Jesus go when his lights went out?  I mean those hours between three in the afternoon on Good Friday and six in the morning of the first Easter day.  Was he reviving in the stone-sealed tomb?  Or did he have some other high business to attend to? 

    According to ancient traditions, extrapolated from a tantalizingly brief reference in the Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 9, he had some low business to attend to.  Jesus went to hell following his entombment. 

    It had been anticipated.  For we have it on good authority, King David, according to the note at the top of Psalm 139, that, in a prayer speaking to God, "if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there."  (Sheol is the ancient Hebrew name for the land of the dead.)

    Now that's a merciful thought.  And one true to God and God's Son's character.  If the Galilean prophet would risk his life cleansing the temple of those who made it into a den of thieves and robbers, it would be just like him to cleanse eternity of its burning fires and those who stoke them.

    It was once said in admiration of Father George Barry Ford, chaplain at Columbia University and Roman Catholic pastor of Corpus Christi Church, a block away from the Protestant citadel where I attended seminary, that he would go anywhere, even to the precincts of hell, to preach the Gospel. In 1956 we may have thought by the precincts of hell brave Father Ford might mean the pulpit in James Chapel, the seminary's church; but the metaphor for his bravery probably owes more to Jesus' Easter Eve than to the Protestant Reformation. 

    Because, again according to extrapolations on Ephesians 4, as to what Jesus was doing down in hell, the best guess was preaching the Gospel.  After all, the mercy of God would seem to require that those who never had a chance to follow Jesus, because they were born too soon, might get that opportunity. 

    Which probably would not please Methodist John Wesley, the solid Arminian, who, following theologian Jacobus Arminius, would insist that you go round once in this life and there are no second chances in eternity, that once having exercised your free will and turned your back on righteousness you were destined to spend the rest of forever in the shadowland where the sunlight of God's face never shines.  Something like that.  Which explains why the United Methodists, until recently, have not included in their version of The Apostles' Creed the phrase common to other Christian churches, "he descended into hell."

    If Jesus lives and moves among us in the world today, the question arises as to where the preachers of the Gospel now patrolling the precincts of hell come from.  That some of us in the pastoral vocation deserve that destination goes without saying.  I didn't join the Fire Department for nothing, even though I never did get my asbestos suit.  More likely, we who spent years in the pulpit will, like young Mormon men, be given a tour of duty of limited duration to practice the preaching arts in warmer scenes (and I don't mean Florida) until we return to billowy clouds and heavenly choruses. 

    I may have been retired from the pulpit, but my future in glory might very well contain another mission; either because I am initially sent below for a little better preparation for heaven; or because, gaining direct admission to the Father's House, I discover that the peace there that passes all understanding, like my retirement, could use an occasional change of pace.   

     Have a more blessed Easter in the knowledge that the love of God knows no bounds.

   



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