Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Harrowing of Hell and the Healing of the Memories

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. The Anastasis icon above is from the The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, Istanbul. 

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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