Sunday, 27 March 2016

Easter 2016 - Christus Victor

Someone at church shared this around - it is too good to keep to myself, and anyway, I want to make sure that I hang on to it.

So, all that follows is a copy and paste..... This is the facebook link is all comes from

For most modern-day Protestants, Good Friday and Easter Sunday are of great importance, with the Saturday in between a sort of meaningless pause. However, for a great many Christians in the first millennium, Saturday was as important as Friday and Sunday of Holy Week. Holy Saturday was the ‘Harrowing of Hell.’ ‘Harrowing’ in modern English has the sense of ‘frightening’ but in the Early Middle Ages it was an agricultural term that referred to turning over soil in preparation for planting. Think about that, the ‘turning over’ of Hell to make it fruitful! In Early Medieval thought, throughout the Christian world, it was act two of a three-stage drama, and in fact it was the dramatic crescendo of Holy Week. Would you like to learn more about that? The following is a slightly adapted excerpt from my book “Water from an Ancient Well” published by Anamchara Books.
Jesus’s followers through the ages have understood that Christ’s work on holy week was that of atonement (think at-one-ment). As the Apostle Paul said, within decades of Christ’s death, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to God’s self” (2 Corinthians 5:19). But how was that marvellous work achieved? Through the ages there have been a variety of explanations.
The theory of atonement most Protestants hold today is that of “substitution.” It goes like this: all humans are sinners who deserve punishment, but God the Father chose to punish his Son in humanity’s place. While common today, this theory of redemption has only been popular since Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury promoted it around the year 1100, more than a thousand years after the birth of Christianity.
Christians in the Early Middle Ages understood Christ’s work differently; their understanding was commonly based on the perspective of the “Christus Victor” model of atonement. The Christus Victor premise was that Jesus’ death was not a legal settlement with God but rather a battle against the forces of darkness. Descending from the cross into the realm of death, Christ stepped into the arena where all of humanity confronts death and the other works of Satan. Like the bravest of knights, he fought with these terrifying enemies and was victorious; forcing them to release humanity from their grip. This theology is based on passages like Colossians 2:15: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities (evil spiritual powers), he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross,” and 1 John 3:8: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Most specifically, 1 Peter chapter 3 tells of how Christ “having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit…went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits who once were disobedient.”
The film Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers presents a powerful allegory, inspired by Christ’s descent into the lower realms. In the dark caverns of Moria, the wizard Gandalf (a Christ figure in Tolkien’s epic) stands against a fiery demon called the Balrog. As they grapple with each other, they both fall into a chasm, hurtling down into the Earth’s depths, clawing and slashing at one another as they descend. As the wizard and demon plummet into this dark and fiery underworld, Gandalf’s companions flee to safety. They are grief-stricken over Gandalf’s apparent death, but later in the story, he reappears, now dazzling white and possessing even greater powers than before. He has defeated the Balrog and emerged victorious. In the same way, early Christians imagined Christ dying, battling with Satan in the nether realms, and then rising as the victorious hero. This epic battle—the point where humanity’s salvation was actually achieved—occurred in the ‘Harrowing of Hell’ on Holy Saturday.
Christians in the Early Middle Ages not only studied the Christian scriptures but also other Christian writings, and the monks of the ancient Iona monastery included The Acts of Pilate among the treasured documents of their library. In this book, the Harrowing of Hell is recounted in vivid pictures. Satan rushes to hell after Christ’s death on the cross, “fleeing in fear” as Christ pursues him. When Christ reaches hell’s gates, he demands, “Open thy gates that the King of Glory may come in.” The demons refuse him entrance, but then “suddenly Hell did quake, and the gates of death and the locks were broken small, and the bars of iron broken, and fell to the ground, and all things were laid open.” Christ then frees a jubilant crowd of captives. Afterward, “all the saints of God besought the Lord that he would leave the sign of victory—even of the holy cross—in hell, that the wicked ministers thereof might not prevail to keep back any that was accused, whom the Lord absolved. And it was so done, and the Lord set his cross in the midst of hell, which is the sign of victory; and it shall remain there forever” (italics mine).
For the ancient Celts and Saxons, the cross was a symbol of Christ’s heroic and eternal victory over hell and death. They believed if they descended to the very depths of hell, they would find the cross waiting for them, offering them hope and salvation even there. The psalmist wrote, “If I make my bed in hell, behold, you are there” (139:8 KJV), and the Apostle Paul was “convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love” (Romans 8:38 NLT).

Image: the Harrowing of Hell—Christ pulls a sinner from death’s realm—portrayed on the baptismal fount of St. Mary Magdalene Church, Eardisley, Herefordshire, England.

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