in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Harrowing of Hell - Holy Week and Easter with George Mackay Brown

The Harrowing of Hell

by George Mackay Brown

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.

 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 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. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.
Matthew 27
As we enter this strange liminal space of Passiontide/Holy Week/Easter I always feel only poetry and music can do justice to what we are about to witness. I already drew on George Mackay Brown, a favourite of mine, earlier in the year, and it is a joy to re-read the beautiful ‘Harrowing of Hell’ that could serve as a meditation for the whole of Holy Week. As I noted a few weeks ago, this year we are fortunate that Western and Orthodox Easters both coincide so we can have the joy of celebrating the mysteries together... joined in our common heritage. The ikon above is from St Saviour in Chora, one of the finest remaining Byzantine series of frescoes in Constantinople/Istanbul and depicts that extraordinary moment where Christ, like some celestial fireman, descends into the underworld to pull out our ancestors from the wreakage of darkness. Surrounded by the instruments of torture that have kept us in darkness he kicks down the doors of the underworld to lead us into the light. We stand then at that moment poised between dark and light, summer and winter, death and life, the Old Law and the New Law. Of course, in mythological tradition these liminal spaces are the most dangerous, here we can be severely hurt. So as we enter this space prayerfully and in contemplation I pray that we may all experience the grace of God to heal our deepest and darkest wounds, knowing that tomorrow the Son of Man will walk in a garden through drifts of apple-blossom...



Death with Life Contended
Combat strangely ended!
Life's own Champion
Slain, yet lives to reign.
Tell us, Mary, say what you did see upon your way?
The Tomb the Living did enclose
I saw Christ's Glory as he rose!
The angels there attesting
Shroud, with grave clothes, resting...

Mors et vita duello
conflixere mirando:
dux vitae mortuus,
regnat vivus.

Dic nobis Maria,
quid vidisti in via?

Sepulcrum Christi viventis,
et gloriam vidi resurgentis:

Angelicos testes,
sudarium, et vestes.

Victimae Paschali Laudes

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