Cletus, Ricky and Elrod were lifelong friends. Born and raised in rural Oklahoma, not one of them had ever even ventured outside the county let alone the state. When they weren’t at work, they spent nearly every waking minute together, usually camped out on Ricky’s porch. Though they (probably) weren’t related, they were closer than brothers, and they fought like it, too. Once their daily case of beer was about three-quarters kicked, they’d start to argue. And the question they argued about was always the same: which of them was the best at ‘noodling.’
For the uninitiated, noodling is “hand fishing,” usually for very large and ornery catfish. It’s as basic and raw as fly fishing is subtle and complex. You strip down to your shorts, jump in the river, and shove your arm into whatever underwater crevasse you come across. If there’s a catfish inside, especially an angry one guarding eggs, it’ll bite down on your hand, or even half way up your arm. Then you just haul it in…if it does drown you first.1
Noodling can be dangerous at times, because there’s lots of things that inhabit underwater holes besides catfish, like big snapping turtles, water moccasins, razor-toothed beavers and even alligators. More than a few folks have given fingers, hands or even half and arm for the love of the sport.
Cletus, Ricky and Elrod were evenly matched. Although Ricky held the record for the largest fish, Elrod was always the one who’d discover the small caves that no one else had ever found; he’d even lost the pinky on his right hand two years ago to something that lurked in the river. One Friday afternoon, those three knocked off work early and knocked back a few. True to form, they started arguing about noodling. After a while it got out of hand and they nearly came to blows. So they piled, half-drunk, into Cletus’ truck and sped toward the river.
Throwing off their shoes and shirts, each of them swore they’d prove, once and for all, which of them was the best. It wasn’t long before Ricky hauled up a nice thity-pounder. Only fifteen minutes later, Cletus caught hold of a 50-lb monster than darned-near drowned him. Just then, Elrod, true to his talent, reached his arm into a new hole that he’d never found before. And with a splash and a gurgle, Elrod was gone. It happened in a heartbeat; something had consumed Elrod. Cletus and Ricky locked arms, and Cletus reached into the mysterious darkness. Ricky’s arm was almost pulled out of its socket as Cletus, too, disappeared into the murky deep.
With a drunken cry of rage, Ricky hurled himself toward the hole and instantaneously felt his entire body engulfed in the maw of something huge, unknown and immensely powerful. The great fish swirled and rolled Ricky around in his mouth, stripping him naked and scraping his flesh. Inexplicably, Ricky felt himself being vomited out, and landed face down on the muddy bank.
Blinking away the mud, Ricky’s eyes locked on the eyes of the great fish, a fish unlike anything he had ever seen. With just a glance, Ricky knew the fish had spared him on purpose. It had stripped Ricky of absolutely everything, right down to the suit God gave him; he felt utterly powerless. As the fish swam up the great river, it glanced back at Ricky with a look that said, unmistakably, “I will come back.”
At three o’clock on Friday, Jesus breathed his last. Drunk with their victory, Sin, Death and the Devil decided to knock off early. They’d certainly earned a little recreation time. But, seeing as though they hadn’t actually done anything fun in, like, forever, they couldn’t figure out what to do. So they went to hang out on the Devil’s porch.
Now, even though these three hung out a lot, they didn’t really like each other very much. In fact, Death had really been having a rough time dealing with Sin and the Devil. Ever since this guy named Lazarus had busted out of Death’s prison, Sin and the Devil had teased him mercilessly. Quite frankly, Death was feeling pretty bad about himself. And since nothing made Death feel as good as working, he decided to make his rounds at the graveyard. Sin and the Devil, thoroughly bored by now, tagged along.
They had never really watched Death go about his business; he was good. Really good, really quick. He had mastered this technique of reaching his hands into the tombs and, without even looking, would deftly snatch what was his. Sin thought it looked kind of fun, so he asked if he could give it a whirl. Death pointed to a tomb, “Try that one. It’s brand new.”
But as soon as Sin reached his gnarled hand inside, he vanished. One second he was there, then…gone. The Devil looked alarmed, but Death reassured him, “Don’t worry. He might have latched on to a prophet or something. They can really put up a fight sometimes. But just in case, lock arms with me so I’ve got some more leverage.”
Death reached inside and felt himself engulfed…consumed….swallowed up. He felt like…nothing. The Devil, too, was encased in an unbearable, blazing light. It pummeled him, stripped him, rolled him around then spit him outside the tomb, naked, beaten and very afraid.
1600 years ago, the brilliant and eloquent St. John Chrysostom preached in his Easter sermon,
“[Hell] is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.”2
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and giving life to those in the tomb.
And he will come back.
1 The world record for noodling catfish is 123 lbs. 9 oz,caught in 1998 in Independence, Kansas. http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/young_naturalists/monsters/index.html