We conclude our Holy Week homilies this Holy Saturday with the homily that Fr. Kevin Grove, C.S.C., Associate Pastor of Christ the King Parish, South Bend, gave this evening at the Easter Vigil in the parish.
So what exactly happened when Christ spent those days in the tomb? We speak of this each time we say the Apostles ' Creed, "he descended into the dead," before he rose again on the third day. And now that we stand in the full light of his risen splendor, it is well worth asking what Christ was doing in those intervening days. And the first answer is that he had passed away and his earthly body lay wrapped in a shroud in the tomb. But since the earliest times of our Church, people have given real reflection, as should we, to those intervening days between his death and what we know to be the first light of the Resurrection. And, in an ancient homily that was preached on Holy Saturday, the preacher recounted an interaction between Jesus, who was in the tomb, and Adam.
And in that moment Adam actually recognizes Christ for who he is; he sees his creator looking like him, in an image like his own, strikes his chest in terror, and cries out to everyone around him, "My Lord be with you all." And Christ's response to him and all of them was, "And with your spirit." Christ the conqueror, the mighty God who had been killed, is ever Christ the shepherd; and he walks over to Adam the first sheep ever to be lost, takes him by the hand, and lifts him up to new life, saying "Awake O Sleeper, Arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light!"
That long litany of saints who were taken into glory while our Lord was in the tomb should make even more powerful the event we celebrate tonight. The gates of hell probably quaked again in fear as all of those blessed souls went forth to God. But so too should the very fibers of our lives and our bodies tremble just a bit this night. Because in his death, offered freely for all, Christ went back and saved the first man and woman from death. But now he comes here; to you and to me, to your heart beating flesh and mine. He came back to earth, he took up our flesh again, and forever released it from death. And he did it only so that he might rescue you and me from the power of death. He did it so that just as he joined Adam to himself for all of eternity, he might do the same for all of us. And in the baptisms we will witness this night, we see this saving action made visible. You and I are gathered at the tomb, and Christ is here to pluck up our courage: "Do not be afraid." The hour of our salvation has finally dawned.