It was only after Jesus had breathed his last that the Roman centurion realized His innocence. “Truly, this was the Son of God!” he cried out.
It was only after they had killed him that the crowds realized their folly, and went home beating their breasts.
It was only after Jesus had expired that Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, came out of the shadows and identified himself as a disciple by asking to bury his lifeless body.
Likewise for Nicodemus the Pharisee, previously daring to seek Jesus only in the secrecy of the night; it was only then that he was emboldened to serve Jesus by bringing spices for his burial.
Too little too late, they must have thought. Imagine their anguish. Collectively, it was a picture of loss, remorse, and despair. Truly, a great silence, stillness, terror, and darkness over the earth.
Too little too late.
But little did they know the mysterious workings of God. Because the Son of God, whose body lay motionless in the tomb, was far from defeated. While they were mourning, He was busting open the doors of hell, breaking once and for all the prison-bars of death.
We recite in passing — just four words in the Apostle’s Creed — “He descended into hell.” Do we realize what was happening? Immediately after Jesus passed from the earth, He went down into the place where the souls of those justified under the Old Law were detained. Those who had been waiting for the arrival of the Messiah in the bosom of Abraham now saw Him face to face. He preached to them the Gospel in its fullness. How sweet those words must have sounded to them!
Imagine the burst of light that tore through the darkness! And this was no ordinary light — this was the Light of the World, and the light of all mankind that the darkness cannot overcome. Imagine the terror that overcame the devils, who realized there and then that their last stronghold was futile against the Son of God.
And with that, Jesus opened the gates of heaven. He kept His promise to the thief hanging from the cross beside Him — who at the door of death had asked for the impossible — “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
All of this happened while there was great mourning on earth, and while it seemed like all hope was lost.
On the third day He rose again from the dead, and the rest is history.
For God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways.
We who believe in the Resurrection have no reason to despair. Not just in the face of death, but also in the troubles of our everyday life (which tend to worry us more than death). He teaches and welcomes us to leave our bundle of burdens at the foot of the Cross.
Lord, we leave this here with you tonight, and we will go to sleep. We will pick them back up in the morning, and even if it feels just as heavy as when we left them, we trust that You are at work.
Because we know that while they were mourning, You were claiming the ultimate victory. While they saw no way out, You were paving the new way.
We will keep watch, because You make all things new. We will take heart, because You have overcome the world.
The cross reveals that unless there is a Good Friday in our lives, there will never be an Easter Sunday. Unless there is a crown of thorns, there will never be a halo of light. Unless there is the scourged body, there will never be a glorified one. Death to the lower self is the condition of resurrection to the higher self. The world says to us, as it said to Him on the cross: “Come down, and we will believe!” But if He came down, He never would have saved us. It is human to come down; it is divine to hang there. A broken heart, O Saviour of the world, is love’s best cradle! Smite my own, as Moses did the rock, that Thy love may enter in!
—Venerable Fulton Sheen