“Balthasar’s theology of Holy Saturday is probably one of his most intriguing contributions since he interprets it as moving beyond the active self-surrender of Good Friday into the absolute helplessness of sin and the abandonment and lostness of death.
In the Old Testament one of the greatest threats of God’s wrath was His threat of abandonment, to leave His people desolate, to be utterly rejected of God. It is this that Jesus experienced upon the Cross and in His descent into the lifeless passivity and God-forsakenness of the grave. By His free entrance into the helplessness of sin, Christ was reduced to what Balthasar calls a “cadaver-obedience” revealing and experience the full horror of sin.
As Peter himself preached at Pentecost (Acts 2:23-24; 32-33):
”˜[Jesus] being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you, by lawless hands, have crucified and put to death; who God raised up, having abolished the birth pangs of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it”¦This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, He pour out this which you now see and hear.’
We ought to pause and note the passivity that is expressed here. Christ experienced what God was doing through Him by His purpose and foreknowledge. Jesus was truly dead and fully encompassed within and held by the pains of death and needed God to abolish them. He was freed from death by God, not simply by God’s whim, but because for God it was impossible that death should hold Christ. Christ Himself receives the Holy Spirit from the Father in order that He might pour out that Spirit. Balthasar writes:
”˜Jesus was truly dead, because he really became a man as we are, a son of Adam, and therefore, despite what one can sometimes read in certain theological works, he did not use the so-called “brief” time of his death for all manner of “activities” in the world beyond. In the same way that, upon earth, he was in solidarity with the living, so, in the tomb, he is in solidarity with the dead”¦Each human being lies in his own tomb. And with this condition Jesus is in complete solidarity.’
According to Balthasar, this death was also the experience, for a time, of utter God-forsakenness””that is hell. Hell, then, is a Christological concept which is defined in terms of Christ’s experience on the Cross. This is also the assurance that we never need fear rejection by the Father if we are in Christ, since Christ has experienced hell in our place.”
”“S. Joel Garver on Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)