He descended to hell...

As a rule, I don't spend a lot of time with the various creeds of the Christian Church. Over the years I have found a way to make my peace with them - mostly metaphorically - but I am more interested in the tenderness and fortitude of real community than institutional purity. The triumphalism of the creeds gets in the way more than it helps. The one exception for me comes in the Apostles' Creed - and one line in particular - "He descendeth into hell..."  

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Christian Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.

What I have come to love about this testimony - or symbol as it is sometimes said about this affirmation of faith - is simple:  first, even in death, the ministry of Jesus reaches out to those in pain and seeks to bring them rest; and second, such devotion makes it clear that God's intention is to heal all the alienated of creation - the living and the dead - with love. I understand that the intent of the creed/symbol was to teach believers that Jesus truly died - a correction to the Gnostic heresies of the early Church - rather than passed from one form to another like a holy phantasm. Such clarity has value - but I am taken by the poetic possibilities implicit in this verse:  he descended into hell.

The good news was shared every where:  on earth, in hell and in heaven because there is no limit to God's grace. Again, I rarely say or use the creeds. But on the day before the Feast of the Resurrection, I draw hope and strength for living from this simple poem. 


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