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"Sleepers, awake!"

On Holy Thursday night, when Christ instituted the Eucharist and gave his disciples a profound example of servant leadership, he shared with them the definitive message of hope…

In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

This message of hope was first fulfilled on Holy Saturday, as the body of Christ lay in a new tomb, donated by Joseph of Arimathea. In an ancient tradition, celebrated in the Apostle's Creed in the words "He descended into hell", also translated as "He descended to the dead," Jesus went to seek out Adam and Eve, and all who died in friendship with God. This scene of redemption fulfilled is depicted in an ancient homily whose words are found in the second reading in the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday. (See "The Lord's descent into hell.")

"I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

"I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

This scene is commemorated in great works of art and music. For references to the art, see the Wikipedia article on the Harrowing of Hell. The most famous work of music commemorating this event was composed by Johann Sebastian Bach, and given the name Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme [BWV 140]. For a beautiful performance of this famous cantata, see J. S. Bach - Kantate "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme", BWV 140 (Ton Koopman).

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