Saturday, April 11, 2009


'Harrowing of Hades'

"Harrowing of Hell."

God in Christ descended into hell, Scripture says.

"If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there," the Psalmist says of God. (139:8).

Frederick Buechner observes: "It seems there is no depth to which he will not sink. Maybe not even Old Scratch will be able to hold out against him forever."


Hum, harrowing? First you plow and then you harrow and then you plant. Least ways that's what this farm boy sees in the word.

Hope is the harrowing,
when promises have plowed the earth,
broken, turned the heavy sod.
Hope is the harrowing,
to make soil welcome seed.
---Richard Leach

So the harrowing of hell is: breaking up all the clods down there?
You know, I thought about this. I thought of the harrow. And maybe so that's the idea: He dragged a harrow across hell, melted those who resistance might be broken, and brought 'em out. ??
In Revelation, the Lamb declares from the Throne that he holds the keys to death and hell. What other reason could he have for holding them than to unlock these final prisons?

The book itself is unclear, except for hints that some might, indeed be trapped there, only to wink out of existence when hell itself dissolves in to nothingness.

The declaration removed from the so-called "Apostles' Creed", that Jesus "descended in to hell" or "descended to the dead" - should be stuck back in there. There were lively theological debates in the Middle Ages on this very point; illustrations and Biblical illuminations often showed Judas hanging upside down (Dante showed him doing so next to Brutus and Cassius; betrayers together forever, it seems).

Today, we need to return to the idea that Jesus was DEAD. We shouldn't rush through Saturday, or even Friday night. Jesus was DEAD. He died forsaken by God - what other result could have happened but a descent to wherever the dead go?

Strange thoughts, I suppose.

Anyway, as of today, we remember that hell and death no longer have the final answer to our lives. As Jesus himself said, let the dead bury their dead, we got some dancing to do. . .
In the bits of the Old English translation of the Bible I read for class, Jesus stormed the cross and pillaged Hell. Perfectly appropriate and understandable for the folks for whom the translation was intended, though farming metaphors would've worked too. I've always wondered why the more militant images were chosen over the farming for that translation.
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