The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. –Matthew 27:52-53.
When you think of Christ’s resurrection, what do you imagine? Do you think of Jesus bursting out of the tomb, his cape flying behind him like Superman? Do you think of Jesus disguised as the gardener who surprises Mary Magdalene? Jesus magically appearing behind locked doors? Walking with the disciples on the road to Emmaus?
If you were raised in an Eastern Christian church, you might have another image, an even more prominent image, strongly planted in your mind. You might immediately think of the “Anastasis” (Greek for “resurrection”), an icon or image of Christ breaking down the doors of hell (hades, the place of the dead), in order to free Adam and Eve and others from their spiritual prison.
Below is an ancient fresco of this image, painted in the Church of St. Chora in Constantinople. Christ is pulling Adam and Even out of their tombs. He is standing on the gates of hell, which he has broken open. Other saints and prophets of the Old Testament are also witnessing and participating in this remarkable event.
(Click on photo to enlarge. Photo: copyright Neil Harrison — Dreamstime.com)
It is JESUS who goes the extra mile, to pull up Adam and Eve out of the grave. Never mind that Adam and Eve had deliberately sinned. Never mind that they didn’t “deserve” salvation. Never mind that they weren’t baptised Christian. Never mind that they lived before him in time and place.
Jesus’ love overcomes every obstacle. Even the doors of hell cannot hold Christ back. And that applies to our current lives as well. Christ enters the places we feel are our own personal “hells” in order to bring us new life.
In Praying with Icons, Jim Forest reminds us that the Anastasis Icon serves as a reminder that Christ wants to free us from all that enslaves us, especially perhaps, our fears:
The icon of Christ’s Descent into Hell can be linked with an ongoing prayer not to live a fear-centered life. We live in what is often a terrifying world. Being fearful seems to be a reasonable state to be in — fear of violent crime, fear of job loss, fear of failure, fear of illness, fear for the well-being of people we love, fear of collapse of our pollution-burdened environment, fear of war, and finally fear of death. A great deal of what we see and hear seems to have no other function than to push us deeper into a state of dread. . . .
We can easily get ourselves into a paralyzing state of fear that is truly hellish. The icon reminds us that Christ can enter not just some other hell but the hell we happen to be in, grab us by the hands, and lift us out of our tombs.
There is much that can frighten us in our everyday experiences. Christ does not prevent us from ever suffering–but Christ does promise to be there with us, through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within and among us, come what may.
Until next time, Amen!