Descended into hell
When we come to the part of the Apostles’ Creed that proclaims the central mystery of our faith, the resurrection, we encounter the four words that may be hardest to understand — “he descended into hell.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says,
Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell” — Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek — because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God.480 Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into “Abraham’s bosom”:481 “It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.”482 Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.
We are told Christ “preached even to the dead” and “Christ went down into the depths of death so that ‘the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”’ (1 Pet 4:6, ccc 645) Jesus really died, and therefore was among the dead, the faithful departed, until he was risen.
Rose on the third day
The conviction that Jesus physically rose after death is so central that St. Paul was led to say, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Cor 15:14) What was the risen Jesus like? Exactly how did the disciples experience him? What seems certain yet mysterious in the Gospel accounts is that Jesus was truly transformed through the resurrection. It was not a resuscitation, nor awakening from deep sleep. Resurrected life is an utterly new kind of existence, a new relationship in and with God.
In the resurrection, a new message was given to humanity. The human story is no longer birth, life, death and corruption. It now is — and will always remain — birth, life, death and eternal life. The message of the resurrection is that our entire lives have purpose and fulfillment.
We certainly believe that we are invited to share eternal life with God when we die, but this new life also begins right now. The resurrection of Jesus calls us to a new life, a new way of living, a new way of seeing things now — a different way than the world sees, believes and acts.
The resurrection is as revolutionary and challenging to us as it was for the apostles. Are we really aware of its meaning and ready to live out all of its implications?