Monthly Archives: March 2018

Holy Saturday meditation 2018: the harrowing of hell


A few years ago I had a habit of posting meditations here for the darkest day of the Christian liturgical year,  which holy Saturday certainly is, and today I will continue that tradition, but with a completely different twist.

On Holy Saturday, in between the crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday and the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday, we remember Christ being in the grave. This was the darkest day of all. For the disciples this appeared to be the end. Their rabbi and alleged Messiah was dead, and a dead Messiah is a false one…

All hope seemed gone, and as far as I can make out no-one had ever understood Jesus’ own predictions about coming back after three days enough to have hope in anything like the stuff that we know would happen. For us it’s easy, we’ve heard the story countless times… The disciples didn’t have that privilege.

I’ve always done my Holy Saturday meditations from this human point of view:
Peter Rollins and his parable of Lucifer in heaven
Friedrich Nietzsche and the parable of the madman
the psalters’ song ‘momamic’

But there is another way of looking at it. A more realistic way even, if you are able to switch your frame of reference. And while the human viewpoint is not unimportant, there are other viewpoints that should not be ignored.
In the older church there was another focus for this day in between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. It is the day when Christ was in the realm of the death, rescuing the imprisoned souls. Classical Christianity called this ‘the harrowing of hell’ and it was quite an important doctrine in ancient Christianity that even got a mention in the apostles’ creed.

And as you see some really weird artworks were made when people tried to depict it. The one on top of my post for example is credited ‘Psalter, Oxford ca. 1220 (BL, Arundel 157, fol. 110r)’, and was going round on facebook today thanks to the fine people of discarding images. This means it’s from the late medieval times, well after the first church but still a while before the reformation.
The interesting thing with art on this ‘harrowing of hell’ how hell/Hades is sometimes actually pictured as the mouth of a very hungry monster. A monster that lost the fight though…

So what is the moral of my post here? That there are different layers of reality, and we don’t always see what’s going on in other layers. while the disciples were having their darkest hour and had lost all hope, Christ was at work beyond what anyone here could see, freeing souls from hell…

We don’t always see what’s happening, but we do have the promise that the Good, the True and the Beautiful will win in the end, and that the hungry jaws of hell will not have the last word! The deeper magic from before creation will win in the end, and the Light will destroy the shadows of night, and we will see the morning.

The Light will win

peace

Bram