Monday, April 21, 2014

The Harrowing of Hell

This poem which I composed for an Easter homily was inspired by (and largely cribbed from) William Langland's 14th century The Vision of Piers Plowman.

The crowd crushes inward, each man bearing branches,
“Hooray and Hosanna, Hosanna!” they sing.
“What lancers are listing?” ask those who've come lately.
“'Tis Jesus the Jouster, our Christ and our King!”

Then Christ appeared riding a most noble stallion
Named “Caro” or “Flesh” and “the-nature-of-man.”
The un-holy champ'ion of Satan was riding
a pale horse named “Falsehood” and “Father-of-lies.”

They lifted up lances and lurched towards each-other,
The crowd waiting breathlessly for them to meet.
And just when it seem-ed that Christ would be victor,
The point of a lance pierced his side and his heart.

Then Lucifer laughed from his lair down in Hades,
“This so-called Messiah is dead at my hands!”
When suddenly Light pierced the dark of that dungeon
As Christ rode victorious down into Hell.

The devils, despairing, said “Here cometh Christus!
The Cross comes before Him to undo us all!”
“O Death!” bellowed Christ, “by my Death I destroy you!
And Satan, I've come here to claim what is mine!”

Then Lucifer, terrified, rose to meet Jesus
And vainly he argued that Jesus was wrong.
“Each soul that has perished from Adam on downward
Has come to my kingdom and is mine by right.

“The letter of law—as You know since You wrote it!—
Is 'eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'
Each soul here has sinned and so forfeit his freedom,
You have no right, Jesus, to take them from me!”

His eyes full of fire, Christ cast down the Devil
And, being much stronger, He bound him in chains.
“You know well the Bible,” said Christ to the Devil,
“'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'

“By your own words, Satan, I come to condemn you:
'An eye for an eye, flesh for flesh, soul for soul.'
I, Jesus, the Just One, who never was sinful,
Have paid with my own life the price for each one.”

Then Jesus, extending his arm out to Adam
Clasped hands with his father, that first son of God.
“Too long hast thou lain here in need of salvation.
The Gospel now gives life to all who have faith.”

So Christ freed the captives of Satan's dark kingdom;
In Heaven, our homeland, they wait for us now.
Shall we, dear friends, meet them? Rejoicing forever?
Or stay in our sins and so suffer and die?

Through forty days Lent has prepared us by Penance
To meet Jesus here at his altar with joy.
If faith and our charity both make us ready,
Our Passover's sacrificed; Come, keep the feast!

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