29 March 2016

Holy Saturday, the Harrowing of Hades, and Susa Gates Young

I think this is going to be my new Holy Saturday post.

A few months ago I asked some online friends, many of whom are Christian from all different denominations, about the harrowing of Hades (or Christ's descent into hell) between His death and resurrection.  It's a major theological point for Mormons- basically, the entire reason why we do temple work for the dead with a short summary of what Jesus did in Doctrine and Covenants 138- but I didn't know what other Christians thought about it.  Most said that they either had never heard of it or rarely talked about it, but a few (especially Orthodox) explained how important a doctrine it is for them.

In particular, Holy Saturday is a very significant day for Orthodox Christians because of Jesus' victory over death and hell. During the 40-day Paschal season, Orthodox Christians sing several times a day, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tomb, bestowing life!"

Ezekiel 37:1-14, Hosea 13:14, Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19, and Ephesians 4:7-10 were all used to help explain the doctrine.  One Anglican women said, "The idea is that what is needful isn't someone to declare us not-guilty as in a court of law, but rather someone to bring healing to our wounded and dying souls (as in a hospital). The harrowing of Hades conquered death, thereby providing communion with God, which brings healing."  This is a rather different different and much older atonement model than the substitutionary/satisfaction model many western Christians use (including, to a large extent, Mormons) because Jesus' conquering of death is the point, not His redeeming us from or paying for sin. She went on to say, "They [these two models] suggest a God of a somewhat different character.  Not one who demands what is due to him, but one who pays a ransom demanded by another for the good of others, or one who enters into a battle on behalf of the weak."

I really do need to do a better job of observing Holy Saturday and doing temple work or family history seems like the best way to do that, but I also want to remember what Orthodox and Anglican Christians have told me about this day.

And now for the Susa Gates Young part of this discussion. The article I just linked is from lds.org and talks about her commitment to family history and temple work:

She [Susa Gates Young] wrote countless newspaper and magazine articles, taught class after class, and took the message on the road to many stakes and wards. She visited genealogical libraries in the eastern United States and England and corresponded with genealogists from many other countries, seeking greater knowledge and expertise. She served on the general board of the Relief Society, where she succeeded in having lessons on genealogy (most of which she also wrote) incorporated into the [Relief Society] curriculum. She published a 600-page reference book on surnames and contributed frequently to a new magazine devoted to genealogical research.
Susa and [Joseph F.] Smith spoke together at genealogical meetings—she provided practical instruction in methodology, and he laid out the theological foundations of the work.

The article goes on to describe the general indifference of many church members to the topic- the lessons she'd written were almost scrapped by the Relief Society General Board from the curriculum, partly because doing genealogy was so difficult (and it was a lot harder to do in the 1910s than the 2010s). But she said, “All the desired inspiration in the world will not save our dead. We must also have information in order to consummate that noble work.”

So, with that background, Susa visited her friend Joseph F. Smith just after he had written what would become D&C 138.  After she read it she wrote in her journal, "In it he tells of his view of Eternity; the Savior when He visited the spirits in prison—how His servants minister to them; he saw the Prophet and all his associate Brethren laboring in the Prison Houses; Mother Eve & her noble daughters engaged in the same holy cause!"  Susa was a women's rights supporter and was glad "to have Eve and her daughters remembered" and wrote later, "This is unusual—the mention of women’s labors on the Other Side...the direct view of [women] associated with the ancient and modern prophets and elders confirms the noble standard of equality between the sexes which has always been a feature of this Church”  She also wrote, "Above all to have this given at a time when our Temple work and workers & our genealogy need such encouragement. No words of mine can express my joy and gratitude."

So think a little about Susa Gates Young when you think about Doctrine and Covenants 138.  Her enthusiasm for the cause made a difference.

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