The Harrowing of Hell

The funeral bier still occupies the center of the room, but the body of Christ has been removed. He is in the tomb. And death begins to be undone. We read Old Testament passages about Jonah in the belly of the fish and the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace. Pictures of death. Pictures of life after. We are reminded that those of us who have been baptized into Christ have been united with him in his death and will most certainly be united with him in his resurrection.

We begin to sing “Arise, O God, judge thou the earth…” and several things happen all at once. The priest scatters bay leaves and rose petals among the congregants. Children beat sticks against the backs of the chairs to symbolize the harrowing of Hell. And little girls exchange the purple cloths of lent for the white of Pascha. Almost there. Almost.

We begin our preparation for the Eucharist with this hymn…

Let all mortal flesh keep silence and in fear and trembling stand,
pondering nothing earthly minded.
For the King of kings and the Lord of lords
cometh forth to be slain and given as food to the faithful.
Before him go the ranks of angels,
with all the principalities and powers,
the Cherubim many-eyed and the six-winged Seraphim
covering their faces and chanting their hymn:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Then the priest and deacons set about the work of preparing and consecrating the Eucharist. On the funeral bier. The deep significance of this defies description. To receive the Body and Blood from the very funeral bier on which we have lately carried him is almost unbearable. And extraordinarily beautiful.

Near the end of the service, the priest blesses baskets of bread and wine assembled on the ambo. And we share them with one another afterward. A sweet time of communion and fortification for the last part of our journey toward Resurrection which will commence in the evening.