“Nikki, Georgi,-- get in here! It’s time to go watch Christ save the universe!” Nikos & I were 9 years old. It was Good Friday. We were in my grandparent’s backyard climbing the crabapple tree. I had skinned my knee and there was a little blood on my dress. I began to cry. It was okay though— Yia-yia kissed my boo-boo and all was right with the world again. She was my salve.
“Papou, how is Jesus going to save the universe?” Nikki asked as we sat in the back seat of the car on our way to St. George’s
“He is going to free everyone from hell.” Yia-yia my grandmother answered.
Everyone! Papou said.
Then Yia-yia added, “Jesus Christ kisses the boo boo of our world—death. “
Nikki and I sat in far back of the church with other children sprawled out on the floor. Nikki created a comic book about his superhero Jesus who empties the tombs of Hell. I watched him furiously and fervently drawing picture after picture for his comic book. His imagination was set on fire. Jesus who descends to hell and sets all the captives free.
Beloved, there is some deeply monumental about the cosmic story of Jesus Christ’s descent into hell.
The heart of universal salvation is that Jesus Christ descends to hell and sets all the captives free. The word salvation at its roots comes from the same word as salve- that is a balm one uses to heal. Jesus kisses away the boo- boo of our humanity. This the earliest understanding of salvation and the cross.
The notion of Universal Salvos—Universal healing—universal salvation is that Christ harrows hell in his dying. Today marks the beginning of the universal Christos—the Cosmic Christ whose very throne is the entirety of our existence—the universe itself. That’s what starts today.
Jesus suffers. Jesus dies. Jesus descends to Sheol—to hell and empties it completely. Hell takes a body and discovers God.1 Hell is left yawing, dark and emptied of all souls. All souls that were, all souls that are to come. The Christ who descends to Hell will, in 42 days ascend to heaven. Before Christ can sit on the throne of the cosmos, he must harrow hell and free us. The start of his cosmic reign begins in his death. Hell is overcome by what it did not see. Hell took a body and discovered God.
In the Orthodox liturgy of Good Friday, a hefty wooden cross is carried in. Candles are placed on the beams of wood; a crown of red roses is placed in the center of the cross. Crowns of flowers are used in other liturgies—weddings & baptisms. Nikki wore a crown of flowers in his ordination to the priesthood. Crowns of flowers represent Christ’s universal salvos.
“Today He who hung the earth upon the waters,
is hung upon the Cross.
He who is King of the angels is arrayed in a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who in Jordan set Adam free receives blows upon His face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails.
The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear…
Come, let us see our Life lying in the tomb, that he may give life to all those that in their tombs lie dead.”2
The crucifixion of Jesus nails all the sins of humanity. In the cross, evil is conquered by the ultimate degree of love. All creation is set free on the beautiful wood of the cross. What started on a tree with Adam & Eve, is completed on a tree with Jesus the Christ.
But what about those that never turn to Christ? What about Buddhists and Muslims and all the rest? Christ is too beautiful, too irresistible to turn from. Jesus Christ is the way we name the good in our story, our reality, our religion. All turn toward beauty and the good. We don’t know how; we don’t know when but that is the reality—the mystery. All of creation turns to good, to healing and wholeness. That’s the stunning beauty of the cross. To say atonement—that at-one-ment only comes to some, denies its power and beauty. It misses the point. Anything less than the whole of the creation set free is flimsy at best and toxic at its worst.
God unmasks violence and empties it of all power. God never turns away. God takes an evil instrument of annihilation and turns it into life. God’s redemption is that stunningly good. This is the deepest and primary tradition we have around salvation and the cross. Not an angry God who sends his son for a few of us, no but a God so in love that She is balm to all of creation.
That’s the notion of salvation. Jesus Christ is so mighty, so stunningly beautiful in his cosmic array that we are captivated by such beauty. So, we turn and we heal.
In the ancient church rite of baptism, the catechumen, would stand in the water in the earliest darkest and coldest part of the day facing west. The deacon or priest would bid the renunciation of evil and Satan and powers of hell that deform us and then physically turn the catechumen to face the east the sun and the community standing in the waters with them.
Do you turn and accept Jesus Christ as your savior? I do.
Like a kind grandmother, Jesus Christ kisses all creation’s hell away. He is the salve of all the cosmos. How could it not be this way?
Come, let us watch as Christ descends to hell and sets all creation free!