And He did; though it breaks our minds, He did. The tomb is empty, Peter’s face white like linen; Mary smiles and hearts are soon on fire; there’s no reason why the broken, wounded, disappointed ones should laugh and leap and heal the sick unless He burst forth from the tomb and said, I am always with you, and breathed His spirit into them; unless some cosmic shift took place within all that we know is true, unless He showed His hands and feet and said, Now be my hands and feet, unless the fiery risen Christ met them in their homes and said Don’t fear, unless He rose up from the grave and conquered death – He did.
“It’s true: the Author of life lay dead, Lay three days inside death’s tomb, The Righteous and the Holy One Made Himself an offering to Ignorant, unrighteous men Who knew not what they did. It’s true, for we are witnesses; We saw Him breathe and saw Him die And saw Him rise again and eat Fish and bread among us, He Who made the fish swim, made grain grow And lay dead on a tree. Look: the one who makes bones live And opens blinded eyes has made The lame man walk along with us, And you too must receive The gift of faith, the gift of life, The gift of utter joy.” The lame man clinging onto them Saw the stares of men who knew Everything yet nothing too. “Times of refreshing may come to you,” Peter said, the tail’s sting Hanging in the wind: For everything was done for them And nothing they could give, Every debt was paid and all Faith was theirs to take, Yet some there were who still would not Die that they might live.
We had seen him do the same as this – men on mats, lame from their birth, men born blind, women who bled, rubbing mud into their eyes, ordering their legs, “Now walk!” And always we saw this response: the broken ones arising, healed, the order of their bones arranged to be now as it should, that way he had of taking atoms and changing their whole course. And yet we had not understood, until we saw Him breaking bread – an action so domestic, yet unexpected, being dead, and then, I think, we understood, how every promise of the Word was somehow in His nail-scarred hands so bodies must respond to Him as clay in potters’ hands. And slowly there dawned in our minds the knowledge that just as He said “Get up and walk”, he could too say “Your sins are now forgiven”, and “Arise now from the grave.”
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…