Two times a year the prison goes on lockdown for a shakedown. During the shakedown the inmates are confided to their cells. The guards then go from cell to cell to perform a shakedown. A shakedown is a search for contraband. The guards tear the cell apart, looking through everything the inmate owns. Flipping through the pages of every book. Inspecting every container. After the shakedown the inmates pick up the mess and put their cell back together again.
Because surprise is important for the searches, the shakedown is never announced ahead of time. We get no notice. So twice a year we drive out the prison only to be told that the semi-annual shakedown has started. We turn around and go home.
The shakedown takes a few weeks to complete. It's a miserable time for the inmates. Sitting confined in your cell for weeks. Having your cell torn up.
But the shakedown does give us two holidays a year. It's a hard on the inmates, but it's nice to have a few weeks off twice a year to re-charge your batteries and spend a few Mondays in row at home with the family.
Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.
When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.
Let this be the pattern for all men when they practice mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you.
Therefore, let prayer, mercy and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defense, a threefold united prayer in our favor...
Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to the earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit.
When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.
--St. Peter Chrysologus
The word "harrowing" comes from Old English word hergian which means to plunder, seize, or capture.
The Harrowing of Hell refers to Jesus' decent into hell to break down the gates of hell to release humanity from the captivity of the Devil.
The Harrowing of Hell appears to be referred to, if only obliquely, in a couple of passages.
For example, in his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2 Peter describes Jesus as having gone to "the realm of the dead":
Acts 2.27, 31What did Jesus do there in the realm of the dead? Passages in 1 Peter and Ephesians are used to answer this question:
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay.
1 Peter 3.18-20aThe Ephesians text is ambiguous. Perhaps descending to the "lower, earthy regions" is simply a reference to the Incarnation and not the Harrowing of Hell. But 1 Peter seems to describe Jesus preaching the gospel to the dead, to "spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago."
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago...
1 Peter 4.6
For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
This is why it says:
"When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train
and gave gifts to men."
(What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
I'd like to take a moment to reflect on the import of the Harrowing of Hell in these texts for theologies of universal reconciliation.
Specifically, in many doctrinal systems death is believed to end your moral and spiritual biography with God. Your status--Saved versus Lost--is set and fixed at death. After death your relationship with God is set in concrete, never to be changed.
But the Harrowing of Hell, one of the oldest doctrines of the church, suggests otherwise. Death did not end the moral biography of the "spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago." Death did not permanently fix an eternal fate. Christ's salvific pursuit of sinners continued after death.
For many theologies of universal reconciliation this is a key point of dispute with those who endorse eternal conscious torment, and even annihilationism. Is your relationship with God eternally fixed at the moment of death? Does God's salvific pursuit of sinners continue after death?
According to the Harrowing of Hell God pursues us, even after death.
It’s Bad Advice Tuesday over at The Establishment! This week, the Bad Advisor tackles (not literally) a vengeful paramour, a baby name thief and everyone’s favorite: How Do I Force My Adult Child To Procreate Because I Want A Grandbaby Now, Dammit?????.
Read the Bad Advisor’s response to this and two more hot and toasty treats here.
One of my favorite songs isn't a Hank Williams original but a cover, though Williams' cover is what brought the song to the awareness of a larger listening public.
That song is "A Tramp on the Street." When Williams recorded it the song had been bouncing around for some time among gospel and country artists, the song's exact origin of some debate among them. The cover of this song that caught Hank Williams' attention was done by Molly O'Day.
"A Tramp on the Street" was written by Grady and Hazel Cole. Starting with an image from The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16 the lyrics of Hank's cover go like this:
Only a tramp was Lazarus' sad fate,You can hear Hank Williams sing the song here.
He who lay down at the rich man’s gate.
He begged for the crumbs from the rich man to eat.
He was only a tramp found dead on the street.
He was some mother’s darling, he was some mother’s son.
Once he was fair and once he was young.
And some mother rocked him, her darling to sleep.
But they left him to die like a tramp on the street.
Jesus who died on Calvary’s tree,
He shed his life’s blood for you and for me.
They pierced his side, his hands and his feet.
Then they left him to die like a tramp on the street.
He was Mary’s own darling, he was God’s chosen son.
Once he was fair and once he was young.
Mary, she rocked him, her darling to sleep.
But they left him to die like a tramp on the street
If Jesus should come and knock on your door
For a place to come in or bread from your store
Would you welcome him in or turn him away?
Then God would deny you on that great Judgment Day.