The Harrowing

I’ve been co-convening a little get-together of 20/30-something church types who are into “questioning” and “wrestling” with matters of faith. Yesterday’s topic was empire and power, and someone raised the question of whether Christianity lost its ability to speak back to power after 313, when Constantine made it a state religion. I rambled a response about the paradox and scandal of incarnation – how, in an abstract and philosophical way, things took a turn towards human corruptibility the moment the Word decided to become Flesh (which got a laugh from the room) – and, at some point, I used the word “harrowing” to describe the history of the Church in power.

That’s an expression that comes from a statement of faith that says that after Jesus was crucified, and before he, on the third day, rose from the dead, Jesus went to hell: crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus, descendit ad inferos. That’s the harrowing.

I’m not sure I made much sense last night, but, this morning, my thesis clicked for me as I listened to Non Est Deus, an anti-religious black metal project out of Germany: if the Church is the Body of Christ, then maybe church history as the Church of power is its harrowing – the Church as “ad inferos,” still in our triduum before the resurrection.

This isn’t black metal, but that thought now reminds me of these southern gothic lyrics, at once depressing, but also, in that theological light, a little statement of hope, as well:

And still I’m there falling
Down in this evil pit
But until I hit the bottom
I won’t believe it’s bottomless.


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