Archive for April, 2012

Preaching Hades: April 18

April 18, 2012

.. and I have the keys of death and Hades,’ proclaimed Jesus to John at the beginning of Revelation..

The Lie of Hell almost had a subtitle ‘The Truth of Hades and Gehenna’ but I wanted to keep it simple. The subtitle was kept for the ‘Biblical Conclusions’ chapter.

This Easter I preached about Hades, the New Testament place of the dead, called Sheol in the Old Testament. On Good Friday, I spoke about Jesus with us in pain, in guilt, in death which is in Hades, so that there is a way out. I read out the crucifixion from Matthew’s Gospel. After I had spoken the verse ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’ a thought came into my mind: ‘Read the rest of Psalm 22.’ The cry to the forsaking God is the first verse of this Psalm.

The thought felt like a Jesus thought. It was gentle, bright, inviting, one of His thoughts. After a long time ignoring such thoughts and then regretting my cowardice, I am learning to go with what comes. I carried on with my talk and, at the same time, leafed through the Bible. I glance-read Psalm 22, talking all the time. At the end of the Psalm comes:

To him indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.

Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

The place of those who sleep in the earth, who go down to the dust, is called Sheol / Hades. On the cross Jesus was referring to deliverance for these people, in that place. I had not seen this connection before and was delighted to tell people about it.

I wasn’t brave enough to explain the process by which this came to me. I could have invited the congregation to join me in the journey of reading Psalm 22, instead of leaving them wondering why I suddenly became half distracted. Or was it lack of faith that there would anything relevant in this Psalm? Or pride in wanting any insights appear to come from me?

On Easter Sunday, praying first thing, I asked Jesus if there was anything else for the morning service, especially for the sermon which I had prepared on Jesus having, and using, the keys of Hades.

‘Look up the alternative collect,’ came to me as I prayed. The collect is the Church of England prayer for each Sunday. Each week there is a longer more traditional collect and a snappier more modern one. The longer one had been printed out to be used. I had not thought of looking at the shorter alternative one.

The alternative is:

God of glory,
by the raising of your Son
you have broken the chains of death and hell:
fill your Church with faith and hope;
for a new day has dawned
and the way to life stands open
in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

The message of the collect is that there is a way to life from death and hell. I was preaching much the same message. But I reckon the name ’hell’ is an unwarranted mingling of Hades and Gehenna and the Bible translation we use has Jesus with the keys of death and Hades rather than the keys of death and Hell. I changed hell to Hades in the collect and in the sermon..

How delightful that Jesus knows the collects of the Church of England and wanted to give me the encouragement of an official prayer that fitted in exactly with what I was saying!

More seriously, we had a man present whose daughter-in-law had committed suicide 4 days previously. She had battled bi-polar disorder for years. He found the truth that Jesus has the keys to Hades, and uses them to access people in Hades, comforting. They were surprised that I did not know about their daughter-in-law already as the sermon had been so apt.

The truth of Hades, to which Jesus has the keys, is a message people need to hear.

Roger Harper