“Those who have ears to hear, listen to these words I now say.
Those who have eyes to see, watch as this story unfolds.”
Today marks Easter Saturday, a very low point in the Christian Calendar. It is a time of deep reflection upon the events that unfolded that fateful day following the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, the Divine Creator. For his remaining disciples, male and female, it was a time of deepest shock and grief at the loss of their rabbi and dearest friend. The events which had unfurled in previous days that led to his death were weighing upon their hearts.
The body of Lord of Life now lay, like a grain of wheat in the ground, buried in the chill of a rock tomb. However, just as a seed shows signs of life and growth, well before it pokes its shoot above the soil, on a spiritual level much work was going on unseen to humankind. The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness could never overcome it.
Many have sought to understand what was happening, and in some Church traditions there is what’s known as the “harrowing of hell” (or plundering of hell) where, having paid the blood ransom that the “deep magic” demanded, Christ went into the places of the dead and proclaimed his victory over death, leading its captives to freedom in him. If you like your Anglo Saxon, ‘click here‘ to discover more about the medieval beliefs regarding the harrowing of hell.
Orkney poet and writer, Gordon Mackay Brown wrote this stunning poem, ‘The Harrowing of Hell’ which neatly encapsulates the concept:
He went down the first step.
His lantern shone like the morning star.
Down and round he went
Clothed in his five wounds.
Solomon whose coat was like daffodils
Came out of the shadows.
He kissed Wisdom there, on the second step.
The boy whose mouth had been filled with harp-songs,
The shepherd king
Gave, on the third step, his purest cry.
At the root of the Tree of Man, an urn
With dust of apple-blossom.
Joseph, harvest-dreamer, counsellor of pharaohs
Stood on the fourth step.
He blessed the lingering Bread of Life.
He who had wrestled with an angel,
The third of the chosen,
Hailed the King of Angels on the fifth step.
Abel with his flutes and fleeces
Who bore the first wound
Came to the sixth step with his pastorals.
On the seventh step down
The tall primal dust
Turned with a cry from digging and delving.
Tomorrow the Son of Man will walk in a garden
Through drifts of apple-blossom.
This poem will feature as part of Pleasley Forest Church’s Easter Sunrise ritual (held quite appropriately for the last lines of the poem, in Pleasley Community Orchard). It incorporates an interactive element as various appropriate items are placed onto the altar in our worship during the reading:
Having descended to the dead, declared the victory by wresting the sting of death, ascent was coming. The song continues tomorrow…