“... I know my inquity, and my sin is ever before me ...” says Psalm 51 (Douay, NRSV chapters).
Today, Holy Saturday, is perhaps an appropriate moment to contemplate just why redemption was necessary.
The Apostle's Creed says that Jesus κατελθόντα εἰς τὰ κατώτατα (“descended into the abode of the dead,” often translated as “hell”). The harrowing of hell refers to the time between Jesus' death on the cross and his resurrection.
By very ancient tradition Jesus brought salvation to all the faithful people—folks such as Abraham, Moses and the prophets, plus many more—who had died before the sacrifice of the cross. Perhaps this is the meaning of the antique Spanish moniker Sábado de Gloria (Glory Saturday) by which my mother referred to this day: the Saturday in which Jesus brought the righteous dead to the glory of the presence of God.
That same tradition also holds that Jesus expressly did not bring salvation to those who were already damned. On this matter, I happen to take a view that is thinly orthodox, just this side of what would get me arrested by the Doctrinal Police: hell exists, but I just don't know if anyone is there. So maybe Jesus didn't exclude anyone because there was no one to exclude.
Let the angels-on-pins folks debate the question.
The teaching is that we are born into a befouled, corrupt and unjust world and, from time to time, we assent to joining in the orgy of wrongdoing. Maybe we do wrong that wouldn't get rated more than R or PG, but we do.
Maybe none of my good readers sin, but I certainly sin, have sinned and probably will sin again. Despite my best intentions.
I admit to all and sundry, especially some readers of this blog whom I have injured at one point or another (you know who you are), that I have sinned against others, against myself and against God.
Sin exists. I know it exists because I have committed it and it is ever before me.
But you know what? The psalm from which I quote above hints at an ending to this movie that is not hell. Let's read the idea in whole:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy. And according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my iniquity. Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me. (Ps 51:1-5)And? What did the Psalmist expect to happen in response to this repentance?
O Lord, thou wilt open my lips: and my mouth shall declare thy praise. For if thou hadst desired sacrifice, I would indeed have given it: with burnt offerings thou wilt not be delighted. A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. Deal favourably, O Lord, in thy good will with Sion; that the walls of Jerusalem may be built up. Then shalt thou accept the sacrifice of justice, oblations and whole burnt offerings: then shall they lay calves upon thy altar. (Ps 51:17-21)The crucified Lamb of God has been laid upon the altar in our stead. Rejoice!