Coronation (Lent Poems 17)

Then, barely strength enough in sinews to
keep swollen legs taut for standing,
lacerations up and down his beaten back,
cuts deep like caverns along his spine,
neck too torn to lift his head,
he was then crowned,
thorns turned inward on his brow,
nails hammered in to hands and feet,
a way of raising, lifting high,
for all to see, the one here crowned
with thorns and scorn, the one here called
King of the Jews,
and now his guards fight to defend
his robes, while governor and priests
debate the wording of his formal name
and title, and he, the lifted one, moans
and lifts his chest to breath, to groan:
I am thirsty.
His cup-bearer lifts some wine
upon a sceptre-sponge up to his lips;
acid burns in cracks and chafes,
the deep ravines of aching grace.
One final upwards groan to breathe;
The guards draw lots.

The Second Mile, The Shirt Off Your Back (Lent Poems 16)

And so outside they took him where
He was stripped and whipped and there
Outside they, blind-man’s-bluff-like, watched
The one who knew all seem to flail
As taunting him they whipped some more,
Called him to say who struck him;
Yet amongst the turgid roar
Of soldiers at their grown-up games
And Pax Romana’s golden splendour,
There he sat, or crouched, or swayed
And let the whips eat into him,
The tunic ripped right off his back,
And turned aside to let them hit
His other side once they’d struck
The first one blind, half-dead besides;
And there he took all, gave all, let
Himself be nothing who was all:
A lamb without a blemish who
Did not lift his voice to shout.

Pilate and the Crowd: Lent Poems 14 and 15

The next two poems, I think, need to be published together, because they flow into each other and make less sense by themselves. Their titles comes from common Latin phrases – “Vivant Rex” meaning “Long live the King”, “Amicus Caesaris” meaning “Friend of Caesar” – and they continue the story of Pilate’s trial of Jesus, with a brief flashback to a time when Jesus was interrogated about correct conduct towards Caesar.

Vivant Rex
(John 19:1-16)
Long live
Long live the king
Long live King Caesar
Long live the king
Here is your king
Dressed in purple robes
Thorn-crown on his head
Here is your king
Bow before him
Here is your king, the
Tyrant governor said.
He’s not our king
We have no other king
We have no other king
But Caesar
What shall I do with him
Say what I shall do
Shall I set him free to you
Shall I set him free?
Crucify him
Free Barabbas
Crucify him
He’s no king
Crucify him, we have no
Other king but Caesar
What has he done
I find nothing
Wrong with him
What has he done
Have him whipped
Have him mocked
But let him go
I find no fault
If you free him
You are no
Friend of Caesar’s
You are no

Amicus Caesaris
(Matthew 22:15-22)
One day
They came to Him with a coin,
The standard Roman fare,
The face of Tiberius, the inscription of a god,
The pride of a tyrant all clearly displayed.
“Rabbi, what,” asked they, “should we do
For our taxes? Is it right for us to pay?”
The trap stretched out between them and Him,
A line of thread, so delicate,
So perfectly, expertly spread.
Perhaps he did not see the trap.
He showed no fear, no startled, darting
Eyes to say that he was stuck.
He took the coin and looked upon
The face, inscription, all its pride:
“Whose face is this upon the coin?
And this inscription: whose is it?”
The name stuck in their throats, a dry
Resentful lump: “Caesar’s,” said
The haughty ones. Their trap – so sure,
So sublime – what had it done?
His eyes, so certain, cut into theirs.
“Then give,” he said, “unto Caesar
What is Caesar’s. Give to God
What is God’s.”
He walked away, a line of thread
Dangling round his walking feet.

Paschal Lamb (Lent Poems 13)

I feel that this poem might need a word of explanation, because I am very wary of it being misunderstood.

In the flow of the story, as we move from Pilate to the surprising response of the crowd to Pilate’s request to free Jesus, there is a need to hazard an explanation: why did the crowd call so vehemently for Jesus to be killed? It was certainly not a universal response among the Jewish people, many of whom either followed Jesus or were unaware of the debate that raged at that moment. But some did call for his death, and they were motivated at least in part by expediency: what Jesus represented seemed to threaten the already uneasy peace with Rome.

And so, at this point, we have two competing but intertwining interests: Pilate wanting to be seen by Rome as a good governor while also keeping the people happy; the people (some of them) wanting to avoid conflict with Rome but also wanting to protect their interests. Meanwhile, none seemed to understand the actual role that Jesus played: as the one perfect sacrifice for all involved – the perfect Passover Lamb.

Paschal Lamb
It is better, the priest said,
That one man die
Than all the nation
Be destroyed.
The words he spoke, we knew,
Were true. We’d seen before
The pagan hordes
Charge in with force,
Repel with scorn
Our frail attempts to
Stand up tall.
All the nation be destroyed:
Yes, we’d all
Seen that before:
In our minds, the
Shattered wall, the temple
Crushed to debris, and
The glory of the presence
Gone.
Better by far
That one man die.
He spoke a truth
We did not know,
But in the moment
All was clear:
Better for us
That one man die;
We raised assenting
Voices high.
Echoes off the palace walls
Shouted with us:
Crucify.

The Clanging Truth (Lent Poems 12)

What is truth? he laughs,
And turns his back,
A final flounce, a sulky huff,
The provincial honcho,
His rabble-rousers angry,
Too gridlocked to say
What he really thought.
What has he done?
Got me up before breakfast,
Set my ulcer off;
This had better be worth it.
The holy huddle’s cynical tug
At his power-hungry heartstrings
Leaves him unimpressed:
King of the Jews?
The thought is laughable.
A backwards glance before he leaves the room:
The man in question stands
In silence, waiting,
His not-of-this-world truth kingdom
Nowhere to be seen here, save
The disquieting strength
In his firm-fixed gaze.
Everyone on the side of the truth –
Ha! the foolishness, the hubris –
Listens to me. The door slams.
The careworn governor storms outside,
Where the words, unheard, still resound,
A sharp clanging in his stubborn ears.
What is truth? he shouts again
To the swirling and the anger
And the morning air
And the biting accusation which
Even his power cannot acquit.

Scatted Sheep, Dying Lamb (Lent Poems 11)

Do not let
Your hearts be troubled
My father’s house has
Many rooms
If it were not so
I would have told you
Do not fear; I
Will not forget you.
I go to make a
Place for you.
If it were not so
I would surely have told you
Do not fear, my
Sheep: you will scatter, but
I am the good shepherd.
I lay my life down for
My scattered sheep. It
Is surely so, for I have told you
Do not let this moment
Test you. Peter, I have prayed
That you will not fail
Peter, you must feed my lambs.
It will be so, for I will tell you.
And my word is true
Do not fear, I
Am the lamb who
Lays his life down for
The sheep. Do not fear;
I will not fail you.
Do not fear.
I am the truth

Put Away Your Sword (Lent Poems 9)

Drawing my sword, I meant to say:
All this I’ll do, and more, for you;
Show me the battles, where the fights rage,
Tell me! – anything, I will gladly do.
Yet it was not enough, not what you desired:
The sword slicing right through Malchus’ ear.
You stayed my hand, pushed my sword to the side.
Peter, can you drink the cup that the Father
Has waiting for me? Stunned, I did not reply,
The soldiers approaching, your eyes upon me,
My sword at the ready, your hand blocking mine,
My pride screaming, Lord, can you not see?
You saw, I suspect, saw only too well,
For one moment beside the fireplace, I
Could not bring myself, when asked, to tell
That I knew you, and loved you; replied
When insistent questions fired, I swear
I do not know that man. You knew,
And said what would be, though I had declared
That I would walk through fire for you,
But the sword had been cold and dead in my hand
And the night air was empty, an open abyss,
Of watching for your silent, lamb-hearted plan,
Where swords were no match for a betrayer’s kiss.

Lent Poems 8: The Kiss

is expected: the customary greeting,
the place so familiar
(we’ve been here before)
and his eyes unsurprised
at me or the soldiers
who hang back now, none too discretely, behind,
awaiting the signal,
and he too, somehow, watching my move,
always ahead and yet biding his time.
And then, we have action:
the moment of contact,
the last blush of friendship.
The cheek brushing mine is
tender and soft; the jaw that’s behind
is firm as a stone.

Gethsemane (Lent Poems 7)

Gethsemane
And in the dark a kneeling man,
Arms outstretched,
Beads of sweat and blood comingled:
Father if this cup might pass…
Friends asleep while keeping watch;
Amid the cries for mercy, some
Lucid strains of prayer for them
Who cannot keep from sleeping now:
Not for some swift rescue plan
From high above, a spaceship or a floating boat
To take them from this troubled land,
No UFOs or rapture kits, just strength
To keep until the end. And in and out,
In and out, float the strains of prayer inside
Their sleeping heads, moments caught,
Recorded, treasured, other strains
Left unheard, strains of a heart ripped
Right in twain: the wills to live
And to obey; the cry for strength
To persevere, or be delivered:
A prayer which can but hope to be
Half-fulfilled and half-denied.