Saturday, April 19, 2014

Christ Breaks the Seal on Holy Saturday

Alice C. Linsley

A friend recently asked this question:

Alice, I have a question for you, coming from a time in Orthodoxy as you have. What do you think of substitutionary atonement? My Orthodox friends say, "He did not 'die in my place', but on my behalf." I was curious as to what you thought about this.--Anglican Bishop Sam Seamans

Orthodoxy does not see the death of Christ as substitutionary. It is seen instead as the giving of life to the world. This is a mystical understanding. The Incarnate One, who was from before time the Giver of Life, enters time and restores the original pattern of life through His blood. The ancients believed "life is in the blood." The oldest known symbol for blood is a T-shaped human form.

I think the Eastern view more comprehensively aligns with the flow of Biblical narrative and teaching. Anglicans, being heirs to the Reformed tendency to oversimplify, lost the ancient flow of the Passion-Resurrection narrative. Maundy Thursday is about betrayal and the institution of the Lord's supper, the medicine of immortality. Good Friday is about restoration of the original pattern of life (recapitulation) through the Life-giving Blood (and water from His side); and Holy Saturday speaks of redemption from Hades. On Holy Saturday the Church contemplates the mystery of the Lord's descent into the place of the dead. Death, our ultimate enemy, is defeated from within its own stronghold.

Matthew testifies that the Jewish authorities insisted that the tomb be secured, the stone sealed and a guard set (Matthew 27:66). They did this because the Jews feared that Jesus' followers would remove his body and declare that He had risen.The Roman seal was a cord that stretched across the stone. It was fastened at each end with sealing clay (Daniel 6:17). The seal indicated Roman imperial authority and it was a capital offense for unauthorized persons to break the seal. Very early on the morning of the first day, this outer seal was broken and the tomb was found empty.

They thought they contained Him with the Roman seal on the stone, but imagine what Christ our God accomplished during that time! He broke down the bars of Hades.

On Holy Saturday, Jesus entered the place that only the highest authority could enter. There He broke the seal of death so that He might lead captives in his train to the Father. This procession language was part of the ancient expectation that a Righteous King would rise from his tomb/pyramid and lead his people to immortality.

"He gave Himself as a ransom to death in which we were held captive, sold under sin. Descending into Hades through the Cross ... He loosed the bonds of death" (Liturgy of St. Basil).

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