Hell Night

The night that launched Jesus’ Passion was like no other in the history of the universe

Topics

Faith

“Hell night” is what some New Jersey kids call October 30 because, from the 1950s forward, it became a “mischief night” wherein some people’s trees get draped with toilet paper or their windshields covered with shaving cream. Sometimes these pranks have degenerated into wanton acts of destruction.

“Hell week” is what the period of brutal, often degrading, initiation into some college fraternities is called. Isn’t it telling that destruction and degradation are naturally associated with hell?

Hell night is not October 30. Hell night is Holy Thursday night. It’s the culmination of hell week that started on Palm Sunday.

The night that immediately launched Jesus’ Passion was a night like no other in the history of the universe. It was the last night the devil had reign, and it was the night he was convinced he’d win. It was the night he was convinced he would even scores with mediocre Michael. It was D-day — death day — and hell’s legions were going to land en masse.

There’s a detail in Luke’s account of the Temptation in the desert unique to him: he concludes the account by noting “when the devil had finished, he departed from Him for an opportune time” (4:14). That opportune moment is found in Luke 22:3: “Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.” Immediately thereafter, he goes to the chief priests to arrange his betrayal.

Judas’s league with the devil is not limited to his abrupt departure from the Upper Room after his sacrilegious Communion or his kiss in Gethsemane.

After seeing what his deeds set in motion, Judas is struck by a sterile remorse (remorse is always sterile, in comparison to the fruitfulness of repentance). The devil undoubtedly reinforced it by one of his favorite tricks: minimizing guilt prior to a sin’s committal, maximizing it afterwards but prior to its avowal.

Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ depicts how devils beset Judas, driving him on as he makes his way to his chosen finale at the end of a rope on a tree.

But Judas isn’t the only one. The Polish poet Roman Brandstaetter, in an untranslated poem (“In the High Priest’s Courtyard”) captures the devils who laid hold of Peter, in one sense at Peter’s behest:

I call forth a choir of demons, chanting a litany:
‘Peter, o Rock, patron of those denying themselves’
‘Patron of those quaking in fear’
‘Patron of deniers’
‘Patron of those who run away’
‘Patron of those hiding themselves’
‘Patron of those feigning indifference’
‘Patron of those covering their eyes’
‘Patron of those distancing themselves from the fire’
‘Pray for our cowardice!’
So sang the demons. Then I saw crossing the courtyard, his whole body shuddering, an angel with the head of a rooster.

As to other Apostles hiding under right sized rocks, driven by the fear which cedes no ground to love (I John 4:18), I’m sure each had his infernal attendant.

Quietly reading the four Passion accounts in the Gospels, one senses a sheer venom and hatred that seems almost beyond human capacity, even with the cumulative sins of mankind on the scale.

But should we doubt the ranks of the foe’s haughty host when, as Gibson’s film depicts, their leader himself takes one last shot at pulling off a successful temptation? When he will slither the Via Dolorosa, making sure the One dies condemned on a tree, seemingly accursed by God (Dt 21:23), a murderer from the beginning and to the last (John 8:44)?

“This is your hour — and darkness reigns” (Lk 22:53). It was his hour, driving religious fanatics, military sadists, and idly curious onlookers to follow Him.

“A burden of sorrow is given to this man/ Deluge of hate is on him as he struggles through the sand” (Dexter Greener).

The devil’s last hour.

“We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness” (Eph 6:12).

Tomorrow night, it’ll be over. Tomorrow night, instead of hell night, hell itself will be harrowed.

Tomorrow afternoon, as veils are torn and dead bodies come to life, Satan will get the cable: “Total rout.”

Sure, even after wars end, the enemy takes prisoners, causes casualties. The difference is, in that phase of the battle, the prisoners surrender into captivity, freely committing spiritual suicide.

But as far as hell night goes, “it is finished.”

Deo gratias!  Jesus, I trust in you!

 

John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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