The Slow Dawning Part 1: Linen Cloths (Easter Day)

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.

Nine Quatrains (Easter Vigil)

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.

The Second Day (Holy Saturday)

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…

The Soul’s Travail (Good Friday)

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…

The Wounded Servant (Wednesday in Holy Week)

Sustaining the weary with a word,
There were none who would come to him
That he would turn aside.

Morning by morning his ear awoke
To hear the cries of the small and weak,
The beaten and the bruised.

And beaten and bruised, he turned his back
To take their lashes, and turned his cheek
To take their spit and spite.

And he turned his cheek to take the kiss
Of the friend who caught the High Priest’s eye
And sold him for silver coins.

He set his face like flint towards shame
And took a crown that pierced his brow,
His throne a place of skulls.

His obedience plumbed the darkest depths,
His mercy a gift of bleeding love;
Glory springs from his shame.

Children of Light (Tuesday in Holy Week)

           Arise, little ones.
Though in your smallness you cannot see
Beyond the faint horizon:
 
He comes, he comes,
Across the seas,
Bearing light upon his brow.
 
To those despised deeply,
Abhorred by the world,
He comes bearing folly, to weaken the wise;
 
He sweeps the vast coastlands,
His mouth is a sword,
Yet he will not lift his voice.
 
And silently he falls to soil,
A kernel, broken, to spread its seed
And bring in a harvest of plenty.
 
           Arise, little ones:
He takes in the weak, beleaguered and small
And makes them children of light.

The Former Things (Monday in Holy Week)

        See –
 
He who stretched the heavens out with His hands
And spread out the earth and all it contains,
Whose breath fills our lungs with infinitude,
Who beckons us in with His arms –
 
He sees the smouldering wick in the dark
And the reed that has been bruised too many times;
He sees the blind and the dungeon-bound
And the hopeless cases of dawn.
 
       He sees
 
And His arms know how to stretch out
To draw us in and encompass our wounds;
He sees and He falls lower than us
And does not grasp hold of His throne.
 
See Him ride, a king bound for death,
Eyes set on that city of misconstrued peace,
Where the broken are scourged and the bruised are now laden
With new yokes and burdens to carry;
 
       See Him reach
 
With arms bent on grace, a king of deep wounds,
A man well-acquainted with sorrows and grief
Who erases the former things with each step
And ushers hope into the past.