Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Harrowing of Hades and the Healing of Memories

All Saints’ Wickham Terrace: The Baptismal liturgy at the Easter Vigil Mass, 2004. 

During my time as rector of All Saints’ Wickham Terrace, the Anglo-Cathoic “shrine church” of Brisbane, the rearrangement of the back of the church began, necessitated originally by the need to rebuild the organ. But because of the crowds walking through the piazza right past the west door, and the constant stream of them slippng in to pray, it was thought fitting that the back of the church should be made as overwhelmingly beautiful as the sanctuary area, in such a way as to minister to those who never venture further than the back pew. 

A new gallery was built, the font was elevated and centred, a sumptuous backdrop to the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was commissioned (see HERE), counterbalanced on the other side by the equally large panting of St Teresa of Avila. 

The centre-piece, towering over the font, is the Icon of the Resurrection, the “Harrowing of Hades”, given to the parish as a memorial to Canon Alexander Livingstone Sharwood (1907 - 1991) and Margaret Evelyn Sharwood (1910 - 1995). This beautiful Icon was written by Bishop John Bayton and dedicated by him in November 2002. In his sermon he said: 

Here in the pigments of mother earth, and the gold of the kingdom of heaven we find Christ trampling down the Gates of Hades and hauling our first parents out of their sepulchers, about which Saint Peter speaks in the words of our text tonight. Preaching to the souls in prison, those ancient ones who lay in their tomb awaiting the coming of the Second Adam to the fight and to the rescue of fallen humanity. 

Behind them stands John the Baptist, King David and King Solomon, the Prophets Elijah and Elisha and Daniel. And the two mountains - on the right Mount Sinai, Horeb, that most awesome of places, where God gave to Moses the Torah and every interpretation of the Law. And on the left Mount Tabor where, in company with the two great desert prophets Moses and Elijah the Lord is transfigured in order that he might set his face towards Jerusalem. This is the place where Peter said, “It is good Lord to be here, let us make three cubby houses, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah. 

Cubby House comes from the Aramaic Qu ‘bah the place where the children meet to tell stories, to sing songs and to dance – that is, the Church - where the Great Story of Redemption is told in the Mass, where the great Liturgy is sung and where the whole Laos of God , bishops, priests, deacons and laity perform the sacred dance that recalls into present time the events of the past that have their fulfillment in the future. Below the trampled down gates of the underworld we find Satan, the evil one, Lucifer bound in chains until the end of time, surrounded by the instruments of Christ’s Passion. 

What follows is a powerful Eastertide reflection on the Harrowing of Hades by Canon William Beasley, who works in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) to help establish new congregations, particularly in the Upper Midwest. He shows what the victory of Jesus means for us here and now: 

On Holy Saturday, right after remembering the crucifixion of Good Friday, the Orthodox Church celebrates Jesus’ descent into hell, celebrated in art and literature as the Harrowing of Hell. (From the Old English word hergian, the word harrowing means to despoil: “to steal or violently remove valuable or attractive possessions from; to plunder.”) Jesus beat back the gates of Hades to rescue Hell’s captives - to free God’s people trapped there so that they could ascend with him in the resurrection. This is not the celebration of universalism, which asserts that sin has no effect, but rather, it is the celebration that nothing is beyond the saving power of the Son of God. He even smashes the gates of Hades to deliver all who would follow him. You have not met a person who is beyond the saving power of the victorious Son of God. 

The One who has the power to set captives free, he stands in eternity—outside of time and reaches into our present and past. He is present to you now while equally present to you in time past. Jesus has the power to enter your time past to heal memories now. Agnes Sanford, a pioneer in the ministry of healing prayer, coined the phrase healing of memories to describe how you can find forgiveness and healing in the Lord rather than continue under the heavy burden of past sins, either that you have committed, or that have been committed against you. You do not have to be in bondage to the grinding psychological rut of the past; you can know the joy of the Lord's freedom. He can enter in the pain, the hell of your memories, and rescue you. He enters into past memories, not to change the facts, but to change the effects of sin through forgiveness and healing. You then have the choice to use your “holy imagination” to see Jesus with you in those memories. His Presence heals. He has the power to break down the gates of Hades, to forgive, to redeem, to restore—to harrow from Hell. He has the power to make all things new. 

In this season of Resurrection, as the Lord raises up new congregations - new missional communities among us - in a barn in rural areas or in a home, in an urban storefront or in a nursing home, in a suburban living room or in an apartment complex, remember that you are following the One who has the power to break people free from the addictions of sin, and that no one that you meet, and no one’s past, is beyond his saving embrace. 

Matthew 27:51-53:
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. (ESV) 

1 Peter 3:19-20: 
He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. (ESV) 

Ephesians 4:8-10: 
Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives and he gave gifts to men.” In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. (ESV)


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