Two more poems from earlier in the sequence, both dealing with the pilgrims approaching Jerusalem for the Passover. The second poem, “Even His Own Brothers”, goes back to early in Jesus’ ministry, when his unbelieving brothers try to convince Jesus to go to Jerusalem in order to make a big impression.Pilgrimage I rejoiced when they said unto me: Let us go, let us leave For the house of the Lord. Let us now go. There we will go, bringing our peace. There we all go. We meet there in peace. There the tribes go, joyful and praising, To the city, the temple, the king’s city, where His throne stands. The city stands Compacted together. There We will all meet, Before the king’s throne, In his city, this city of peace. Jerusalem, we’re near you; will you receive Us as your guests? Will You receive us in peace? Jerusalem, we are now here: Our feet are standing In your uneasy gates – Even His Own Brothers (John 7:3-5) Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him. 1. He shook off the taunts of the well-intentioned: The right time for me has not yet come. Had he not said the same to his mother A few months ago, when the wine had run dry And the master of the wedding had asked For assistance? Had he then, any more than now, Been concerned with social niceties or The demands of public life? Had he courted Then, or now, the limelight? Yet that day the best wine had flowed: Wine to gladden the heart. Though Evading the piercing glances of A public who demanded to know each step he took, Whose clothes he wore and which brands he would support When he overthrew Rome, or those who poked him With sticks and said, Show us a miracle, Christ, He would not neglect the work he came to do: The bringing of new wine, the birth of a new kingdom, In, and yet not of, this world that he trod. 2. For you any time is right, Said the brother whom they did not understand, The eldest, the crazed one, the public magician who Refused to turn up to his most glamorous gigs. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because… By now they had tuned out. They played a flute for him Yet he would not dance, a dirge but he would not mourn. There was no pleasing this one. Back to their homes they went, To the regularity of wood shaped with chisel and plane, While in Judea he hid himself until just the right time To shake up the self-congratulating party with The harsh, dissident cymbal of the truth.
This poem belongs earlier in the collection. It is a flashback to Peter, James and John’s climb to the top of the mountain, where they saw Jesus transfigured, in glory, standing with Moses and Elijah. I wonder if Peter would have thought to this back moment somewhere after Jesus’ arrest; I wonder how the memory would have seen to him then, not yet really understanding who Jesus was or what he was doing. Would it have seemed a taunting reminder of what could have been but seemed to have failed?The Dazzling Whiteness The others had stayed below while we climbed, John with a steady assurance and James Somewhere not too far behind, the Lord at the front Setting the pace and me, frustrated, eyes on the summit And the space between me and the peak somehow taunting. At the top, short of breath, where the ground seemed to catch My eye more than the sky did, I saw a glimmer of light From above, and looking up to the source, there I found The Lord, all ablaze, his face like the sun and his clothes: They were whiter than all the world’s bleach Could hope ever to make them, and there by his side Two faces of age and dignity, men like two trees Of great wisdom and strength; their faces somehow Like two faces I knew. They talked with Lord, there Up on the mountain, and spoke there such words Of knowledge I knew they were both surely prophets of old, The two greatest yet. And, the Lord like the brightest Star of the heavens, Moses, Elijah standing beside him, There where our radiant God shone so loud, And the wonder and glory of us all being there, It seemed like the time and the place to all stop And make, as at Sinai, tents for our meeting there. Yet the sound of my voice, my eager suggestion, Bounced off the sky and landed amid The vacuum of sound in the wind all around us While a voice from the clouds captured and drowned us: This is my Son, whom I love. Listen well to Him. What a sound! And the glory of God filled our souls. Then, gone the voice and the men who’d stood with us; gone, And the sound of the mountain resounded in silence. The Lord motioned down the mountain to walk, And so walk down we did, the solemnity of The moment and then the Lord’s order to Speak not of this moment, until he would rise Up from the dead, consumed all our minds, As each step we took downwards was a fight with the rocks And the pain of the silence and loss of that glory, And, climbing, we wondered and wondered and argued What it might mean to rise from the dead.
Another one that belongs slightly earlier in the collection, while I play catch-up with myself. This one should go, as the name probably makes quite clear, at the time when Peter is waiting outside the High Priest’s house.The Rooster Crows And the sheep are scattered. They have all run away. The wolves have come and The shepherd stands ready To battle them, but the sheep, The sheep are afraid. There are no sheep now In the pen; they run For their lives from the wolves. They have seen the blood drip from The wolves’ sharpened teeth. The shepherd rises, with His burning heart in hand To do battle with the wolves and Their virulent hate. He stands To defend and defeat. But the sheep: The sheep have all gone. You, sheep, have all gone. All will turn away. All will abandon. The wolves, thick with the evil of Their dark intentions, loom. The shepherd stands alone.
Another flashback: the new king arrives on his mule. But this is from the Old Testament and is a foreshadowing of the true king. This is Solomon who arrives, like his descendant would do centuries later, triumphantly but humbly to receive his kingdom.Noise in the City (1 Kings 1:32-53) Lo, The king-to-be comes On the back of a mule, His father’s mule, And the people sing And sound their flutes to say, The new king is come! Long live the King! But hark: amidst the noise Of the people and their flutes In the city, the false priests and The army cringe, mutter: What Is that noise in the city? What Is it’s meaning, all of this noise? The news – a new king, the son Of the King, the new King is come – Meets with their anger. Surely not Now! This cannot be true. And so They cling to the horns of the altar In dread and fear, cling and cringe While in the city, the noise resounds. Lo, the new king is come, On the back of a mule. On his father’s mule, the son of the King comes.
This poem should probably belong earlier in the Lent sequence, but I hadn’t decided until recently where to place it. It best belongs, chronologically, between Jesus’ triumphal entry in Jerusalem and the Passover meal. Here it is now:Late Winter: The Fig-Tree The leaves were there. They promised something – Early fruit perhaps, the first sign Of winter dying. The Temple stood, Before us, and behind us sang The lingering, joyful echoes Of crowds cheering. The Lord approached The fig-tree, hoping now To find some sign, amidst the throng, Of fruit appearing. But though its leaves Were full and lush, it Bore no fruit. It was not the time For figs growing. Yet the Lord, angered, Cursed the tree then For all its false signs and overtures Of fruit-bearing. And into the Temple He walked, whip in hand lest He find there no signs either Of fruit growing.