“Let the house of Israel know!” He cried, and cut them to the heart Who, guilt of Adam in their bones, Had hammered in the nails. “What should we do?” they cried in fear, Seeing their hands at the cross, Their sins like thieves at Jesus’ side, Their voices raised to crucify. “Repent,” he told them, “and believe.” For he knew well the truth he spoke, The broken one whom roosters heard, Now called to feed His sheep.
See Him arise Much brighter than the skies Victory in the eyes Of great David’s greater Son… He breaks the stones of lies, Unties The shackles we put on; Dark Hades He defies, Decries The plots of the shame-faced ones. Before their eyes He takes His rightful prize, Swift, majestic, like the sun. See Him arise Much brighter than the skies Victory in the eyes Of great David’s greater Son!
Day ending, night on its way, they walk, Hearts thick with the talk of the days before, Of expectation reversed and destroyed, Disappointment turned to confusion, To rumours and gossip of empty tombs. A stranger walks beside them, asking for news. Yet he knows the story from its genesis And shows them snakes crushed by heels And mountains where death is destroyed, While their hearts burn slowly within them.
Eyes cannot trust what they see, for here He sees the place where the body lay, Sees the cloths that should have bound him, Sees the certainty of light and sees the day, Yet sees no body trapped within this tomb. Run home, for this makes no sense. It stands Against all that you ever thought or knew. Your eyes make your other senses fools And cause your heart to hope that what The rooster heard might be reversed…
Outside weeping, for this makes no sense, Dawn slowly clawing its way out of the sky, Mary’s name dropping from the stranger’s lips, Mary’s eyes blinking open at the sound, While Peter, in the background, runs home, confused. Rabbouni! The disciple’s earnest, light-bulb cry, Arms wrapped around the one who had been lost; The frantic fear that this, like dew, might fade away. Yet he has arms and can be held. He lives. (No heart could hope so wild a thing as this.)
They lie bedraggled in the tomb, alone, The one the women seek not here to find, Bandages of death with no-one to bind, No sting of death left for them to contain And the spices that they brought no more of use, Only two men outside in fiery white And a surging in Mary’s heart that slowly says The one behind her with the living voice Does more than keep this garden and this tomb But has rolled back all of death’s dense stones.
I. And so, the domes and waters in their place, He made His image-bearers shine His face. He looked on them and called them very good Who only trusted what they understood. II. The domes thrown into disarray to flood The earth and turn the man of dust to mud. Yet one remains to carry on the seed; An olive branch; a bow turned on its head. III. And in the thicket stands a captured ram, Where God Himself, he sees, supplied the lamb. And so the sovereign promise lingers on For he has not withheld his only son. IV. Yet, though with outstretched arm and mighty hand He turns the writhing sea into dry land, Still they long for Egypt’s comfort food And turn to dust what once was very good. V. So over desert sands this call resounds: To seek the Lord yet while he may be found. A cry: listen, listen, eat what is good And let your soul delight in His pure food. VI. And at the portal’s entrance here she stands Drawing in the foolish with her hands, Calling simple ones to come and live And eat from hands which long always to give. VII. Though stony hearts stand back and leave the feast, His breath still calls as far as west from east And beckons in His once-good people who Can only offer Him old hearts for new. VIII. Breathing over valleys of dead bones, He takes these skeleton remains and turns The dead into an army marching wide To bring back to Him those now dead and dried. IX. And so in broken waiting sing aloud For He who gathers waters in the clouds Gathers in the outcast and the lame And fashions praises out of our dead shame.
Probably the first “liturgical” poem that I wrote was on Easter Saturday about six years ago. I had recently read Bruce Dawe’s marvellous “And a Good Friday was had by all” and, having been struck by the immediacy of his language and the power of his imagery, I felt moved to write something similar. I began by wondering: how would the disciples have felt while waiting out that Sabbath immediately after Jesus’ death? How, in particular, would Peter have felt, knowing that he had betrayed his Lord, not knowing how it would all turn out, having to his knowledge no opportunity to remedy what he had done? It wasn’t an especially good poem, but it started me on a process of imaginatively approaching Scripture and using poetry as a means of doing this, a practice which is now a regular part of my life. Today’s poem, another Easter Saturday piece, recalls some of those original thoughts about what it might have meant to wait and rest on what must have been for Jesus’ followers the most painful and disappointing of Sabbaths. The Second Day (Holy Saturday) O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect of the Day) The tree is felled, but its stump remains, Waiting, in the soil. And we in our waiting sing muted refrains, The cries of parched soil longing for rain And waiting in our toil… The branch that grew from Jesse is severed; The Sabbath sits in tears. Jerusalem’s daughter, still undelivered, Looks silent on her rotting vineyard And mourns her broken years. And Jonah’s sign lies buried in the deep; The whale’s belly churns. The women beat their breasts while hope, asleep, Lies in the earth with promises to keep; The week adjourns… Could we, in our weeping, call this to mind, Like dew on each new day? Never-ceasing steadfast love still binds Us in its grasp which, ever-knowing, finds Us when we turn away? The tree is felled, but its stump remains, Waiting for the dawn. And we in our Sabbath sing muted refrains, Longing faintly for our king who reigns Through every crying morn…
My year-long poetry project, “The Swelling Year”, is drawing to a close and will finish shortly after the Easter period ends. Today’s poem signals something of a milestone in the project: the last of the “feast days” for significant Christians remembered in the Anglican calendar. Somewhat appropriately, this poem remembers John Keble, a man whose ideas about church I would not completely see eye-to-eye with but with whom I have a level of kinship because he, like me, wrote poems for most of the days of the Anglican year, in a collection called “The Christian Year”. Today’s poem is based around his Good Friday poem; it does not seem that anyone other than Jesus should be the focal point of a poem today, so I have used this poem to unite Keble’s work and mine around our common Saviour, Jesus Christ. The Slowing Year (For John Keble, Priest) As in all lowly hearts he suffers still, While we triumphant ride and have the world at will. (John Keble, “Good Friday”) And so the year goes on, for go it does, Cycling through its old familiar ways; We take a breath as this holiest of days Slows down the motions of our weekly throes, And hearts consumed with silent dreads and woes But vaguely turn their twisted, inner gaze Towards the tree where our Ancient of Days Hangs, contorted, for a Roman show. If we could pause the swelling of our years Enough to let our wounds rest in his wounds, We might find hiding places for our shame And tissue torn to daub up all our tears. There all our sorrows sound their sweetest tunes Within the broken triumph of his Name.
After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:11) High and lifted up Astonishing the faithless many Kings with mouths agape yet shut And hearts with closed fists Lifted high above The place of skulls and taunting Elevated by his grief The arm of God revealed… Despised and rejected Nothing to his form to draw Our eyes up to him, yet he is Now lifting, high, to breathe And all now see His final breath of life upon The gaping, gawking many who Do not know who he is Breathe life: His soul now stretches, its travail Dragging nail-torn limbs across The branches of the earth Reach out and draw All life unto yourself and give Your every breath to see this light; Your soul is satisfied…