Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Harrowing of Hell : Anastasis

All Saints’ Wickham Terrace, Brisbane 
Blessing of the Font at the 2003 Easter Vigil, 
featuring the Icon of the Lord’s Resurrection.

I was recently looking through some memorabilia and came across a past issue of the All Saints’ Gazette, from my old parish of All Saints’Wickham Terrace, Brisbane. It contains the following sermon preached at the blessing of our great Anastasis icon which forms a striking backdrop to the font underneath the new organ/choir gallery at the west end of the church. 

The Icon is a memorial to Canon Alexander Livingstone Sharwood (1907-1991) and his wife, Margaret Evelyn Sharwood (1910-1995), given by their family. Their association with All Saints' went back many decades. The icon was was written by well-known artist, iconographer and friend of the Sharwood family, Bishop John Bayton AM. OMLJ, GCSJ. He dedicated the icon at Evensong and Benediction on 3rd November 2002. He was also the preacher. This is his sermon:  

“For Christ died for our sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the spirit through whom he went and preached to the souls that were in prison, who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah . . . (when) a few, that is, eight in all were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you.” (1 Peter 3:18)

In the active ministry of every priest there are “highs” and “lows”, remembrances of celebrations and events that form and transform the soul. Memories of Ordinations, Consecrations and people and places.

Of places I could spend many hours recounting them, particularly Jerusalem. In the heart of the Old City stands the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as it is called in the West. In the East the Orthodox and the Orientals know it as the Church of the Resurrection. It is in fact many Churches within the walls of one ancient and venerable edifice. Custody of the Church is held by Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian, Ethiopian and Latin Patriarchies. There are no Roman Catholics in Jerusalem, they are known as Latins because of the incredibly savage way the Crusaders dealt with the local people - Jews, Moslems and Christians alike.

Outside the West door of the Greek Orthodox Katholikon there is a small terra cotta urn about two feet high and about one foot in diameter. It is here, so it is said that God created the Universe. If you put your ear to the opening on top of this little urn you can hear the sounds of creation - if you are pure in heart.

Nearby is a black and white marble pavement with a black and white marble circle marking the spot where Mary Magdalene mistook the Risen Lord for the gardener. Close by to this dynamic place but above it by some five metres is the Altar built over the split rock that once stood in the middle of a great quarry outside the walls of Jerusalem - If you place your hand beneath this Altar you can feel the socket into which the Cross of Jesus was placed. This is the stone once rejected by the builders. Immediately beneath it is a very ancient cave said to be the burial place of our first parents Adam and Eve. It is known as the chapel of Adam.

Ten metres away from this rock called Golgotha, the place of Adam’s skull is a marble slab known as the Stone of the Anointing upon which Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus laid the Lord’s body after his deposition. And another ten metres away from this stone is a small highly decorated little building known as The Edicule. This is the Tomb of Christ.

Immediately above Golgotha by about ten metres is another Chapel, the Chapel Of Abraham. In the floor beneath the altar of this Chapel is a hole covered with a twelve inch silver plate. Through the hole one can see the Altar built over the Rock of the Crucifixion - Calvary.

At 7.00am on June 11th, the Feast of Saint Barnabas and the anniversary of my consecration as a bishop in the Church of God, with the gracious permission of His Beatitude the Greek Patriarch, fully vested in my Episcopal vestments I kissed the Altar and began a solemn celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Above all other places I have been, beyond all other solemn occasions I have celebrated, this day will remain with me for the rest of my life. “And now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.” It was an awesome occasion, a time of great anamnesis.

And yet every Altar stands above the place of the crucifixion-resurrection of Christ. Every place of sacrifice is as solemn a place as that. Yet there is something beyond the veil of sensibility that permits me to speak of that time and to be so moved by it. All things that belong to this Icon we are about to Dedicate constellate there. Here, as I have written down on this board covered with linen which represents the linen in which His body was wrapped. 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 is the purpose of the Icon? This Icon is the Memorial to two people who lived out lives of great faith and who I was privileged to know. The Reverend Dr Sharwood was my lecturer in Greek at St. Francis College. Mrs Sharwood was always a gracious host to theological students at St. Columb's Clayfield.

May I depart from my text for a moment to tell you a story about him. It was an afternoon lecture and we all know that afternoon lectures are times for quiet snoozing. He was speaking about the many kinds of theisms found in the Holy Land - Monotheism the worship of one god; polytheism the worship of many gods; henotheism the belief that there are many gods but one worships only One. He said to Douglas Jones, “Mr Jones, what is henotheism?” Douglas who had been in the arms of Morpheus for most of the lecture said, “Beg pardon Father”.“What is henotheism Mr Jones”. Stunned for a moment, Doug replied, “Poultry worship”. Which reply brought the broadest grin to your father’s face.

In general, and in particular this Icon is a most appropriate memorial to Dr and Mr Sharwood. It is an agreed point of encounter. It is the place where we meet with Christ and where Christ meets with us. An Icon is always a revelation, a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional reality. It is a Place not a painting.

An Icon written, translated from an original or prototype and is therefore faithful to the Tradition. It is certainly not a simple representation of a past event however important that past event is in the history of religion. It is the place where Christ continues to “raise the dead”. It is the Image of the eternal self emptying [kenosis] of God Himself who toko upon himself the form of a servant and was found in human form. Who humbled himself even to death on a cross and who, because of his unbelievable holiness, righteousness and obedience the Father was able to rise from the dead to triumph over sin. To whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.


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