waiting and harrowing hell
Did Christ, mythologically at least, descend to hell to raise up the outcast dead, including reconnecting with his estranged friend Judas? Holy Saturday - these days often called Easter Saturday to the annoyance of traditionalists! - is often sadly ignored in many Christian journeys. Its themes of waiting, bereavement and loss, the work of 'spring beneath winter', and the 'harrowing of hell' are important however, and perhaps particularly appropriate to recall at this time. Indeed the 'harrowing of hell' is one ancient faith understanding which Orthodox Christians have not neglected and which is part of their gift to share. It is unknown to many western Christians, perhaps because of Reformation battles over death, and because it may lead to reflecting on whether God's Love and Christ's work ultimately demands the salvation of all - apocatastasis. Whatever you think of that concept (intuition?) - feel free to let me know! - this day in the Christian calendar has much spiritual depth to explore, beyond being between Good Friday & Easter, cross and resurrection. Milton Anglicans have a few resources to assist along the way - click here to access
Who would have thought, in Australia in 2019, that, thanks to the insistent Tweets of a rugby player, hell would gain such attention? Hellish is certainly the result for those of us in the rainbow community. Particularly since the recent Federal election, we have been subjected to a deliberate right-wing campaign of aggression and hate, with fresh destructive impacts on our mental health and well being. This is a powerful expression of the vicious distortions of so much of today's media, and the apparent eagerness of some 'religious' groups to promote, or be used by, repulsive reaction in the name of religion. It is also a vivid reminder, both of how theological concepts can have real life consequences, including in the political sphere, and also of the need for a religious, as well as much broader, response by LGBTIQA+ people of faith. For religious-inflicted pain is indeed rife and horrendous among LGBTIQA+ people. Anger at religion as a whole is therefore, as a huge understatement, more than understandable. More moderate 'straight' religious people urgently need to recognise this and join the rainbow community as much more effective allies, with a commitment to genuine listening, deep repentance for religious-based shaming and violence, and powerful commitments to assisting in change. Yet, as it uses religion, we are also unlikely to defeat the hideous distortion that is right-wing 'religious freedom' without better theological scrutiny and the use of religious resources by LGBTIQA+ people of faith, affirmed by other parts of the rainbow community. In this, one key feature is indeed to reclaim the very idea of hell as a theological impulse towards justice for the oppressed, connected with the vision of 'a new heaven and earth' of peace and love, not as punishment of 'the other' by the rich and powerful. For God, if that world is to have reality at all, needs proclaiming as the ultimate source of transforming love in generous diversity, not as a mean tyrant picking on the marginalised. If hell is to have any real meaning, other than as a description of actual lived pain today, then it must be as a reminder that, in some ultimate sense (to use Billy Bragg's words):
'there will be a reckoning for the peddlers of hate... and a reckoning too for the politicians who left us to this fate'...
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.