A message from Father Jeff as we approach Passion Week 2022
"Welcome to Hell." That is what I saw on the television a few days ago, painted onto a concrete block on the outskirts of Kyiv. Apparently soldiers at the checkpoint into Makariv are also saying "Welcome to Hell" as they point to their demolished city, clouded in dust.
As I understand it, Hell is a place where your presence cannot be felt, where you no longer reign, where people feel they have no access to you. Hell is a place of torment, of torture, of unescapable pain and terror. I can understand why some people, many people, feel that where they are is Hell, but it can’t really be Hell can it? Surely you haven’t abandoned them? Surely they still have access to you? I know that after your crucifixion and death 2,000 years ago, we are told in the Apostle’s Creed that you "descended into Hell." I have never really, properly, thought about that before, I have always imagined you dying and then going to Heaven, as I hope that I and those I care about, will. But what does it mean, why are we told, that you descended into Hell? The more I think about it, the more significant I am finding this idea. When we read in the Gospels that you came to earth, it was to share the experience of what it is to be human: to know the knocks, setbacks, temptations, vulnerability we suffer; what it feels like to be subject and sensitive to other people’s feelings about you; what it’s like to be hungry, thirsty, sick, in pain. Were you ever sick Jesus, or in pain, other than on Good Friday? Did you ever stumble and break a leg or arm? Did you ever get a cold or suffer from back ache? Because I suppose the whole idea of the Incarnation was not just so that you knew what we have to endure, but so that we can know that you know what it is that we all, in our human weakness, have to endure.
I don’t enjoy the thought of you suffering in any way but, please forgive me for saying so but, I hope you did. I need to know when I and those I care about and pray for experience these things, that you understand "from the inside" as it were. It means a huge amount to people like me, whom you came to befriend here on earth, that you know what it is like to be us. Knowing that you know, warms those experiences somehow, with a sense of the power of your lingering presence which still can be felt in those moments.
So now I am considering whether, in the same way as your coming down to earth to befriend us, console us, guide us, affirm us, inspire us, heal us, with the energy of your loving forgiveness and care, you then went from here to where some of us, probably many of us, would be destined for - Hades, or whatever that shadowy half-place where restless, unshriven souls still not at peace with you, go. There once again to reach out with reassurance, forgiveness, compassion, understanding and to offer people another chance. To love souls which have gone into the deepest, darkest places where their sin and crimes against your law of love have taken them, there again to offer your gifts of salvation, love and peace. To offer them a share in your kingdom where your principle of unconditional, generous love reigns, rather than our equivalent idea about "earning or deserving" such wonders.
So Lord, though many of your people think they are currently in Hell in Ukraine and in other places in the world, be with them and help them to know that you are with them. Reach out to them in a way in which they will understand and relate to; speak to them in the language the story, the experience of their lives, will understand. Help them to draw strength from knowing that there is nowhere, no experience we can ever have, where you are not present, where we cannot feel the power of your love.
Please Lord, we ask this as we draw nearer to the saving events of Holy Week and Easter, when we pray that we will be able to sense your compassion and love for all those who are suffering and frightened in our bewildering but still beautiful world.