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“Awake, O Sleeper! Arise from Your Sleep!”and “Get On Board, Little Children, There’s Room For Many A’more”

On this Holy Saturday, as we wait in silence by the tomb of our Lord, it can be difficult to understand that Jesus is actually still going about the work of His Father today.

In fact, I would argue that the work He is “doing” today is just as important as the work He did leading up to His Passion and death–the work of bringing about the redemption of everyone.

Yes, that’s right. Everyone.

Because today, Jesus has “descended into hell.”

This ancient homily from the 2nd century explains exactly what the Lord’s Descent into Hell did, as Jesus proclaims the great words that resound throughout the ages, “Awake, O Sleeper! Arise from your sleep!”

With these words Jesus brings to eternal life all those who had died prior to His coming–all the way to the beginning of time, so even Adam and Eve find eternal redemption, despite their disobedience and losing the original promise of eternal life with God in the Garden of Eden.

With His proclamation, Jesus is fulfilling the ancient promises given by God throughout salvation history–that He would be the God for all those who had faith in Him–like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David.

Originally, these people of faith were known as the “Chosen People”, the Jewish people of the Old Testament.

But throughout the centuries, and with each successive generation of humanity repeating the cycle begun by Adam and Eve–a period of faithfulness, then disobedience, increasing sin and death, and eventually a complete abandonment of God’s covenant–the need for redemption in the form of a new covenant became apparent.

So God, in His Infinite Wisdom, decided that this new covenant would not be simply for the Chosen People.

No, this time, God wanted to ensure that each and every person throughout the ages would be able to embrace the reality of having been made in His image and likeness, formed in the womb from the very beginning to be His children, His beloved sons and daughters.

And that’s why God sent His Son, Jesus. To bring to fulfillment all that God had promised throughout the ages, originally just to the Chosen People, but a promise that each and every person of faith would be resurrected and have eternal life with Him.

And through Jesus, that promise was extended to encompass everyone–living and the dead.

And that’s where Jesus is today as we sit in silence beside His tomb.

As we the living, await the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of eternal life, the dead are being brought up into the reality of that promise today. And just like the penitent thief, they will hear Jesus say to them, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

So, on this Holy Saturday, as we, the living, await the fulfillment of God’s promises for us, I invite you to quietly reflect on the words to this old Negro spiritual, The Gospel Train:

Get on board, little children Get on board, little children Get on board, little children There’s room for many a’more

The Gospel train’s comin’ I hear it just at hand I hear the car wheel rumblin’ And rollin’ thro’ the land

Get on board, little children Get on board, little children Get on board, little children There’s room for many a’more

I hear the train a-comin’
She’s comin’ round the curve
She’s loosened all her steam and brakes
And strainin’ ev’ry nerve

Get on board, little children Get on board, little children Get on board, little children There’s room for many a’more

The fare is cheap and all can go
The rich and poor are there
No second class aboard this train
No difference in the fare

Get on board, little children Get on board, little children Get on board, little children There’s room for many a’more

For me, this song encapsulates so well the reality of God’s great promise and invitation to each of us to embrace the reality that we are His children, and that we can be His beloved sons and daughters–but we must Say Yes to His invitation.

So how do we Say Yes?

By professing Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and being baptized into the new and eternal covenant established for us through Christ’s Passion and death.

Through our baptism we are “buried” with Christ, and arise from the baptismal waters a new creation, adopted sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ.

And it doesn’t matter what you have done, or whom you have been in the past. It doesn’t matter whether you have been asleep in your sin, or feel unworthy of the great gift of grace being offered to you.

All that matters is that you hear His voice, awake and arise to the new life that God desires for you. A life full of unfathomable love, and of abundant hope, and of deep and abiding joy.

“Awake, O Sleeper! Arise from your sleep!”

And “Get on board, little children; there’s room for many a’more.”

Prayers that this Holy Saturday leads you into ever deeper relationship with Jesus, so that come Easter morning, you may arise in the newness of life with Christ, and “get on board” the Gospel train with all your brothers and sisters all the way unto eternity because “there’s room for many a’more”!

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